RHJ Expects Up To 10,000 Opel Job Cuts

BERLIN (AP) -- Investor RHJ International SA would cut a maximum of some 10,000 jobs at General Motors Corp.'s Opel unit if successful in its bid for the European automaker, the company's chief executive was quoted as saying Friday.

Brussels-based RHJ is competing for a majority stake in Germany-based Adam Opel GmbH with a consortium of Canadian auto parts maker Magna International Inc. and Russian lender Sberbank.

"We will have to cut just under 10,000 jobs across Europe -- no more," RHJ chief executive Leonhard Fischer was quoted as saying in an interview with the Bild daily.

Fischer added that "we will maintain all four German Opel plants" and said he aimed for cost savings of euro800 million ($1.1 billion) per year, Bild reported.

Adam Opel GmbH's future appeared clear at the end of May when, with the German government's support, a preliminary agreement was signed for the Magna-led consortium to move ahead with a rescue of the unit.

The situation has since become murkier, with RHJ saying this week that its own negotiations with GM are "at an advanced stage" and China's Beijing Automotive Industry Corp. also bidding.

On Friday, GM said it had requested that all final offers for Opel be submitted by the close of business on July 20.

"Once received, analyzed and compared, the final bids as well as GM's preliminary findings will then be reviewed with the German and other impacted governments, the EU Commission and the Opel/Vauxhall Trust Board," the automaker said in a statement.

Employee representatives, angered by the uncertainty, have voiced worries that RHJ's aim may be simply to sell Opel back to parent GM.

Fischer rejected that suspicion as "nonsense" and said his company thinks "in long timeframes," Bild reported.

"We want to build up an independent European brand with Opel," he was quoted as saying.

Opel employs some 25,000 people in Germany, nearly half of GM Europe's work force. It also builds the Vauxhall brand in Britain.

German officials said in May that Magna's plan envisions some 2,600 job cuts in Germany, with between 7,500 and 8,500 going elsewhere in Europe. Magna also wants to keep all the German plants.

After a meeting with Russia's president on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Magna bid offers Opel an "excellent" chance and that she hoped to "clear up the open questions in the coming days."

Merkel spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Friday the government had made clear in May "that we have a certain preference for Magna's concept, and nothing has changed about that."

However, he said, "it remains the case that the process is open, that it has arrived at a very important phase and that, in the coming days, important open questions will be cleared up" — regarding, for example, the proposals' financing.

German officials have stressed that choosing a buyer is a matter for GM.

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