One thing can be said about GM, if it is going down, it has finally decided it is going down fighting. GM is now using every communication, lobbying and political pressure technique available to it. This is a welcome change from the obsequiousness of GM leaders in front of egotistical — and largely clueless — American politicians at public hearings for loans.
The latest sign of a more aggressive public thrust came last Friday when GM and Opel & Vauxhall opened a website called gmeuropefactsandfiction.com. GM said it “dispels common misinformation and urban legends” about its European strategy. It also supplies “answers to questions around company structure, actions and plans.”
This appears to be a direct counter attack on the Vice-President of the European Commission, G. Verheugen, and his colleagues, N. Kroes and V. Spidla, after meeting with EC ministers in charge of the automotive industry and with representatives of General Motors, including Carl-Peter Forster, President of GM Europe.
After the meeting, Verheugen, speaking in English at an EC press conference, said with evident annoyance, “Isolated national initiatives or protectionism will not help… It is obvious that GM is discussing at regional and country levels” plans for financial help. Verheugen called for more “transparency” in the coming months and the outcome would depend on the information gathered. (The EC Competition Council will not even meet again until May.) He made it clear that the meeting was “not to prepare a rescue plan for GM.”
His public annoyance – I can only imagine what was said privately — came from an Opel supervisory board plan that was being discussed with individual European countries for the need for 3.3 billion Euros in loans to bridge what GM estimates will be a five-year period before car sales in Europe return to normal levels. GM will put in more than 3 billion Euros in commitment, including a potential third party equity source that would sell off as much as 50% of GM’s stake in Opel. GM is also facing the political nightmare of 1.2 billion Euros in structural cost reductions, which means job losses and plant closings that will take months upon months to negotiate in Europe’s fragmented political structure.