General Motors would be further ahead if walked away from its ownership of Adam Opel AG even it had to pay another automaker to take it off its hands, said one of the auto industry’s most influential analysts.
Adam Jonas, a managing director of Morgan Stanley, told the Automotive News World Congress the value of GM’s shares could increase by as much as 50% if it unloaded its ailing European business – something the maker has so far refused to consider.
The fact is the efforts to turn around Opel have been slow, painful and expensive and nowhere near complete, said Jonas. Meanwhile, Opel has piled up $17 billion in losses since 1999. GM Chairman Dan Akerson has said he doesn’t expect GM to become profitable in Europe for another three years despite its latest turnaround plan’s draconian measures.
However, GM probably would probably have to be prepared to offer financial support for Opel if it wanted to divest itself of the German automaker in a market that continues to shrink. Daimler AG paid $9 billion to sever its alliance with Chrysler and BMW had to pay the equivalent of more than $3 billion to end its ill-fated alliance with Britain’s Rover Group. Both German companies are now better off, though Daimler is still feeling the aftershocks of its ill-fated merger with Chrysler, Jonas said.
GM always stresses the value of the intellectual property tied up in Opel. However, only last week GM quietly moved to protect at least some of that intellectual property.
Opel announced plans to sell six facilities in Europe to its U.S. parent in order to win extended funding. The transaction includes an engine plant in Hungary, a diesel development center in Turin, Italy, and a facility in Gliwice, Poland.
“These are the crown jewels,” Jonas said.
Publicly GM has said the move will bolster Opel’s cash position and provide funding till 2016. Opel is obligated to pay back a loan to GM by 2014.
Last summer Opel announced plans to cut its administrative workforce by 30%, or 1,000 jobs, at its Ruesselsheim headquarters in Germany as part of GM’s 10-year “Drive Opel 2022” plan. A reduction in personnel costs is only one part of the effort. Opel also shut down two plants in Britain, located in Ellesmere Port and Luton. The move idled 3,000 workers at the plants.
However, both Fiat/Chrysler chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne and Renault Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn said this week they expect the European market to continue to shrink this year – which will likely complicate Opel’s turnaround efforts. Marchionne said sales could fall another 3 percent.
Opel faced weak car sales, high fixed costs and excess production capacity as the losses continued to mount in 2012. Its deliveries in Europe dipped 15% to 457,630 vehicles due to weak demand emanating from the debt-crisis in Europe and strong competition from Asian automakers.
Opel expects to report an operating loss of 1 billion euros, or $1.3 billion, and it’s anything but certain what the numbers will look like for 2013. The unit expects to sell 1.4 million vehicles in 2012, which would be about 100,000 less than the earlier projected sales target.
In order to reverse the 14 years of losses in Europe, particularly from the Opel brand, GM formed a global alliance with PSA Peugeot Citroen. The pact could help both the automakers reduce at least $2 billion in costs, they have claimed.
In order to strengthen the market position, GM also plans to expand Opel’s lineup by introducing 23 models by 2016.
However, Peugeot also was identified recently as perhaps the most likely buyer of Opel, though Jonas said Marchionne might be willing to take the company off GM’s hands at the right price.
GM came close to selling off Opel to a Russian-Canadian consortium shortly after the U.S. maker emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. CEO Akerson, then a GM board member, was among the group of directors who helped scuttle the deal. He and other senior GM executives continue to insist Opel is not for sale.