General Motors set to hive off Opel

General Motors on Wednesday transferred control of its European factories and patents to its German subsidiary Opel, paving the way for it to be hived off from the beleaguered US auto giant.

General Motors set to hive off Opel
Photo: DPA

“GM proposed that and the Opel supervisory board accepted it today,” a GM spokesman said.

The move consolidates all European plants, patents and technologies within a single judicial entity, he added.

They include assets owned by Opel, its British sister company Vauxhall and production sites for motors and auto parts, but not assets owned by Swedish brand Saab, another GM unit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel along with representatives from states hosting Opel facilities, General Motors directors and US Treasury officials were to meet late Wednesday for a crunch meeting in the German capital on Opel’s future.

But Berlin said it did not plan to choose which investor it prefers for Opel after the talks.

“I don’t expect a decision on a single investor,” spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said. “It is much more in the interest of Opel and taxpayers that talks continue with several competing interested parties.”

The final decision is GM’s but Berlin has its say because the winning bid is expected to benefit in billions of euros in German state loan guarantees.

Three candidates have submitted official bids for Opel, the Italian car maker Fiat, the Canadian auto parts company Magna, and the holding group RHJ International, with China’s Beijing Automotive Industry Holding (BAIC) also expressing interest.

According to press reports, BAIC is seeking fewer loan guarantees from Berlin and has pledged not to close any German plants for two years, seen as an attractive proposal in an election year. However, a spokesman for Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg played down the Chinese bid, telling AFP that the offer was “much less detailed” than the other three offers on the table.

Fresh questions marks also emerged on Wednesday over the bid from Canadian auto parts giant Magna, which until now had been considered the front runner. Magna’s offer is backed by Russia’s top bank, the state-controlled Sberbank and would see Russian truck maker GAZ making Opel vehicles in Russia Business daily Handelsblatt quoted government advisors criticising Magna’s offer for not bringing enough cash to the table.

If the bid were accepted “the new company would be insolvent from day one,” the unnamed experts were quoted as saying, adding that a hasty decision would be a “catastrophe.”

But Merkel is under pressure from unions, key local state premiers and from members of her own governing coalition to plump for the Canadian bid, seen as the offer likely to result in the fewest jobs lost.

For its part, Italian car giant Fiat seeks to create the world’s second largest automaker after Japan’s Toyota by combining GM’s European and Latin American operations with Chrysler, in which it holds a 20 percent stake.

However, the Italian bid fell foul of Opel’s powerful union bosses as details leaked out of sweeping job cuts. Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne held last-gasp talks with Merkel on Tuesday to push his offer. He has said Fiat would cut 10,000 jobs across Europe, including just 2,000 in Germany with no plant closures.

Fiat chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said earlier Wednesday that the bidding war for Opel was “a lottery,” adding that Fiat had “done everything possible” to win the bid.

“In a lottery, it’s best to wait for the result,” he said, adding that a merger between Fiat and Opel would be “an extraordinary opportunity.”

Brussels-based RHJ International, the third bidder, owns stakes in auto parts firms including Niles and Asahi in Japan, Belgium’s Honsel, as well as Columbia Music Entertainment. But according to Handelsblatt, the RHJ bid has been all but dismissed. “We are concentrating completely on Fiat and Magna,” said an expert quoted by the paper.

Another option raised by Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is the possibility of declaring Opel insolvent but the government has stressed this is a last resort and would prefer to find an investor.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.