Fiat Still Wants A Piece Of Opel

MILAN (AP) -- Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne said Friday that the Italian automaker hasn't given up on Germany's Opel, even though a tentative Opel takeover deal by rival bidders Magna International Inc. and Russia's Sberbank was moving ahead.

"Our interest remains, but it is not up to us," Marchionne was quoted by Italian news agencies ANSA and Apcom as saying at an event in Turin, Fiat's hometown. "Technically, it's not closed. Let's see."

German government officials, as well as U.S. authorities and Opel's parent General Motors Corp., have underlined that the deal with Magna is preliminary, and that the process is still open for all bidders. The deal has raised the ire of officials in Belgium and Britain, where Opel and the sister company Vauxhall run plants, because of the emphasis German officials placed on retaining jobs in Germany over other countries.

In Berlin, Economy Ministry spokeswoman Beatrix Brodkorb said the other would-be suitors are maintaining their contact with the ministry.

However, German government spokesman Thomas Steg downplayed prospects of Magna failing to complete the deal.

Following last week's agreement, "Magna has a clear advantage in relation to other potential interested parties and investors," Steg said at a regular government news conference.

"That does not rule out that, during further negotiations and until the final completion of a deal, other interested parties and investors could put forward new offers or improved offers and the company side -- GM and Opel -- could then conclude (a deal) with another partner."

"That is a theoretical possibility so long as a final deal is not nailed down," he said. "But our impression is that the talks between GM, Opel and Magna are very far along."

Fiat Group SpA pulled out of a decisive round of talks on Opel last week focusing on emergency funding because of what it said were "unreasonable" funding demands, but said it remained interested. Marchionne emphasized Friday that last week's statement stands.

Fiat is on the verge of taking over assets of the U.S. automaker Chrysler, which is emerging from bankruptcy protection. When the deal is complete, Marchionne will become Chrysler's chief executive.

Marchionne's aim had been to combine Chrysler and Fiat with GM's European business to create a world automotive powerhouse that could produce as many as 6 million cars a year, his threshold for surviving toughening world market conditions.

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