Possible French Takeover of Opel Ruffles German Feathers

Maybe it’s leftover regional rivalry from generations past, or perhaps Germany just doesn’t want anything to affect its status as Europe’s financial powerhouse. Whatever the deep-seated reason, the residents of Deutschland are none too pleased about a possible French takeover of the Opel brand.

Earlier today, PSA Group, maker of Citroën and Peugeot vehicles, was revealed to be in serious talks to acquire the General Motors-owned automaker (as well as its Vauxhall sister company). Politicians and the head of Opel’s workers union apparently didn’t see this coming.

On the other side of the Maginot Line, the French seem just fine with the idea.

Opel operates three factories on German soil, and regardless of who owns Opel in the future, the country wants those plants to stay put.

German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries was particularly steamed, calling it “unacceptable” that GM discussed selling its European subsidiary without contacting the German government and local players.

“The company carries responsibility for the sites, the development center and the securing of employment,” she said today. “This is my clear expectation regarding General Motors.”

Opel’s works council and the powerful IG Metall labor union blasted GM over the talks. The two groups issued a joint statement, claiming that discussions with PSA held without their permission amounted to “an unprecedented violation of all German and European co-determination rights.”

A local government representative questioned whether there was a political reason behind GM’s desire to drop the unprofitable automaker. Volker Bouffier, prime minister of Hesse, the state in which Opel has its headquarters, mulled “it could also be that General Motors, with respect to the vision of the new American president, has decided to concentrate more on America and less on Europe.”

France, on the other hand, is eyeing the news closely but not getting bent out of shape about anything. As a 14-percent stakeholder in PSA Group, which it bailed out just a handful of years ago, France would like to see its automotive industry reach “critical mass,” an economy ministry source told Reuters.

The same source said France would “give special attention to the impact in terms of jobs and the industrial impact of these initiatives.”

Under the direction of CEO Mary Barra, GM has been on a profitability kick. Unfortunately, Opel and Vauxhall have resisted emerging from red ink, and the lower British pound — and just perhaps, the possibility of boosted tariffs — provide a further incentive to dump the two companies.

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