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'Questions remain' over Opel deal

GERMANY'S economy minister was quoted as saying on Saturday that questions remain over plans by both Fiat SpA and auto-parts maker Magna International Inc to invest in General Motors' main European unit, Opel, and stressed that he is equally open to both suitors.

Fiat's chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, has visited Germany twice in the past week to present officials his plan to make GM Europe, including German-based Adam Opel GmbH, part of a global powerhouse also including Chrysler.

Canada-based Magna has said it is in talks about options for Opel that might include taking a minority stake, but has given few details.

"Both concepts, both Magna's and Fiat's, still include open questions that need to be cleared up," Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was quoted as telling the weekly Der Spiegel. "For the time being, I view both concepts with the same openness and skepticism."

Guttenberg did not elaborate on what needed to be cleared up.

General Motors Corp has been trying to find investors for non-core and unprofitable assets to help stave off collapse. Opel employs some 26,000 people in Germany - nearly half GM Europe's total work force.

"Of course, we want to secure as many jobs and facilities as possible; at the same time we have the obligation to deal responsibly with tax money," Guttenberg was quoted as saying. Germany cannot "pay a loan guarantee come what may."

Loan guarantees

Earlier last week, he said Fiat's plan would require short-term financing estimated at 5-7 billion euros (US$6.7-9.4 billion) Europe-wide, which could be covered by loan guarantees from governments.

Guttenberg said a GM bankruptcy filing in June could not be ruled out, Der Spiegel reported.

If, by then, GM is largely in agreement with an investor on a satisfactory concept for Opel, "we are considering among other options, for example, a model in which the GM holding in Opel could temporarily be passed to a trustee," he was quoted as saying. A bank consortium could offer bridging aid, he suggested.

In Fiat's home city, Turin, Marchionne suggested on Saturday that he is confident of winning over the Germans to his plan.

"Let us keep working at it, I am sure of convincing them," Italy's ANSA news agency quoted him as saying. "It's the right situation for them and for us."

He argued that Fiat is offering "a basis of industrial coherence that no one else is capable of giving."

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi also voiced optimism.

"I hope that there will be" a Fiat-Opel accord, Berlusconi told a news conference at his office in Rome.

Berlusconi suggested that might be helped by a good relationship that "binds the two governments, something that is of extraordinary importance." He did not elaborate.


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