Mary Barra Tries to Calm German, British Fears after PSA-Opel Freakout

After yesterday’s shocking news of a potential takeover of GM-owned Opel and Vauxhall by France’s PSA Group, General Motors CEO Mary Barra hopped on a plane to the Fatherland.

Given the sudden uncertainty surrounding a major employer, Opel’s works council, labor union and the German government staged a collective panic attack. Soothing words were needed, stat. Britain, home of Opel’s Vauxhall sister division, would also like to hear a few assurances of its own.

According to Reuters, Barra appeared at Opel’s Rüsselsheim, Germany headquarters today. PSA CEO Carlos Tavares is reportedly planning a meeting with German officials, possibly including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Yesterday’s freakout was not unwarranted. The GM-PSA discussions, now apparently at an advanced stage, were unknown to the German government and nearly the entirety of Opel’s workforce. Perturbed, the country’s economy minister called it “unacceptable” that it wasn’t informed of the high-level talks.

Rushing to get in front of the issue, the government is now in talks “at all levels” with GM, PSA and Opel, labor minister Andrea Nahles said today. Opel employs about 19,000 workers at three plants in that country, and the same amount at plants in Spain, Austria, Poland Hungary and the UK. Vauxhall employs around 4,500 workers in its two British plants.

Across the Channel, tensions are running high over the possibility of lost jobs. Britain’s Department for Business claims it is in close communication with GM over the issue, and Vauxhall’s labor boss wants a promise to preserve the brand’s workforce.

“I will also be seeking urgent conversations with the (UK) government because everything must be done to secure our world-class automotive industry,” Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union representing Vauxhall workers, told Automotive News Europe.

Despite its success in boosting revenues and streamlining operations at its domestic operation, GM hasn’t been able to bring its European divisions to profitability.