Vauxhall/Opel/Saab: the die is nearly cast

Posted by Paul Horrell at 9:09 am on Friday May 15, 2009

The band is about to stop in the big game of Manufacturer Musical Chairs, and Fiat – having already snapped up Chrysler – looks set to get its hands on GM Europe too.

That’s Vauxhall, Opel and Saab, in other words. Though it’s possible that Saab will be sold off separately, Fiat is keen to acquire all three brands by the deadline on May 30, the day when the US government will decide whether GM worldwide goes bankrupt.

Fiat’s main opposition for ownership of GM Europe looks likely to come from Magna, the Austrian-Canadian manufacturer that builds such cars as the BMW X3.

However, some of Magna’s capital for the bid would be provided by Gaz, the Russian manufacturer owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska who also controls British van builder LDV – the very LDV that recently took a £5m loan from the British government to keep it from entering administration after Deripaska refused to provide money for a bail-out.

Initially, Magna’s bid was the preferred choice of both the German government and the powerful German unions as it seemed to guarantee fewer job losses. But the governments of the other countries most directly affected by the GM Europe sale – mainly Britain and Sweden – are believed to prefer the better thought-out Fiat bid.

If Fiat does indeed take control of Vauxhall, Opel and Saab, it’ll be a gigantic task to integrate production of GM Europe with Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia. However, the two giants may not be such a bad match: Fiat is doing well with its small cars at the moment, and GM Europe – though hardly a prestige brand – is building decent bigger cars, including the Insignia and the crucial Astra market.

Vauxhall/Opel and Fiat already share a limited number of powertrains, too, and – courtesy of a previous liaison – the Punto and Corsa are built on the same platform.

None of the companies, though, are in rude financial health – especially not when you factor Chrysler into the equation. “Putting three unhealthy bodies in one bed doesn’t make a well patient,” VW boss Piech said this week. And he knows a thing or two about building an automotive empire…

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  1. s said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 10:24 am Link to comment Report comment

    vauxhall will be ferraris as fiat own them

  2. 90s Top Gear FTW! said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 10:32 am Link to comment Report comment

    What baffles me is that a few years ago, Fiat was on the brink of a financial melt-down. It was my understanding that they have the Panda to thank for their prolonged lifespan.

    However, quite how they are now in a position to buy up three large-scale manufacturers is beyond me…?

    And as for Magna, all I can say is the BMW X3 is cheapest, tattiest and worse built BMW that I am aware of – which will line them up nicely to take over from GM quality control! ;)

  3. agelos said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 11:11 am Link to comment Report comment

    geia oloi 3enoi eisaste???

  4. agelos said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 11:12 am Link to comment Report comment


  5. Ricardo said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I must admit I didn’t see this coming. The very idea of Opel being owned by Fiat is just staggering. One day, Porsche’s main rival will be Fiat!

  6. Matt said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I remember a few years ago when Fiat were being bailed out every month! I really didn’t see this one coming, despite the recent sucess of the beautiful Grande Punto and Nuova 500. Fiat have got it spot on right now. Apart from the Panda all their models look really good and they’ve improved the interiors to be better than typical Italian standards.
    However VW boss Piech is right, they’ll have to cut out dead tissue and wait for wounds to heal before this patient become stable again.

  7. Ronald_H said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Fiat has seen some very bad times, but has crawled from the brink with the Panda, Punto and 500. Even the Bravo does better than expected. They do small cars well, which makes them ‘green’ and the fact that their cars don’t cost much doesn’t hurt either in these times. They are also strong in modern efficient engines.

    Opel has some strong contenders with the new Astra and Insignia so the basis for a healty product portfolio seems ok.

    BUT, has Fiat bitten off more than they can chew? The reoganisation will hurt many people no matter what, but that seems unavoidable. Either it all goes horribly wrong, or the Fiat empire will be contesting Toyota and VW in a few years time.

    Fiat does have a patchy reputation, but they seem to have their act together. And I love my Panda…

  8. ASX said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm Link to comment Report comment

    well, the car bussiness has always been a long term thingie…and there is direct synergy btw fiat and opel/vaxhaull due to the earlier GM relationship…so it makes complete sense that fiat takes them over and can immediately position them a notch above its own brand in the EU markets…plus opel/vaxhaull has a good line-up now and with better stuff in the pipeline, this might just work…and god damn it needs to…because on the base of these brands, depends the future of the more mid-market Lancia, Alfa Romeo and now Saab (catch some long term synergies there?) and then of course the cars everybody wants Ferrari and Maserati…not to forget Jaguar and Land Rover too…as Tata has a MoU with Fiat where-in jag n LR will be distributed in a number of markets through Fiat’s ‘prestige’ dealers…not to forget that a lot of development for future cars can be done together btw maser-jag et all. And then ofcourse, in the commercial vehicles market, opel-fiat has synergies there too…thus Fiat’s European strategy is perfectly clear with this deal.
    But its stake in Chrysler is slightly more baffaling as there its only interest can be in the dealer network…which isint great to start with…plus integrating fiat family’s current line-up with chrysler family doesnt make any sense due to the VAST differences and ofcourse fiat wont like to re-brand their cars as doddgy dodges, esp now that its being held as the new super power…
    it could be then that the chrysler deal was a step it took too soon, now probably regrets it, but now with GM EU its got the break that it was looking for…

  9. PetrolHead247 said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 3:41 pm Link to comment Report comment

    If Fiat want to survive with Saab and Vauxhall/Opel under their belt then they’d better do a damn good job. If they fail to achieve and they plunge themselves into debt, then we would find an extra car company becoming extinct.

    I’m sure they’ll do well though, they have made some great cars lately, like the 500 and 500C which is, really, the only true rival to a Mini Cooper’s character, fun and pizzazz. A huge bonus to Fiat is that this fun and character in the 500 appeals to everyone, it’s a great car, so no wonder Fiat sell a huge amount of 500’s. So the new 500C should do just as well, if not better.

    Fiat will, eventually, take over GM europe and this is a huge bonus for Saab Vauxhall and Opel. It will be great to have these european car companies owned by another european car company, instead of a huge american buisness who are a huge failure and don’t know how to run a few car companies, so expect good things from Fiat and GM europe.

  10. SUTSKI said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Marchionne thinks 5m unit sales a year will make a viable size competitor to other world auto companies. He needs this band of limp brothers to pull together a reasonably size force to quickly provide a worldwide sellable line up of cars, homogenised globally, that can take on the US, European, China, Russian etc. markets.

    The danger here to me seems to be that if “Eastern” hands get too deep into these companies and take machines and production back home, such as with MG gear to China, 2 years down the line we are not selling cars to China, they are selling cars and vans to us.

    At least the Marchionne plan plans a European cohesion of action, such as with the quick to market Eurofighter perhaps;) save a modicum of production and market while the storm passes and sell a few successful cars.

    Pre-peak oil and pre-last 18 months market sillyness, 3m at least could be banked on a year out of this lot. Easy. However now 6.5m Americans have lost their jobs, 20 million in China and countless thousands more in the UK and around the world, the only people who can risk to afford to go into debt to buy/lease new cars are Govts and businesses.

    The public as far as I can see, won’t be getting as many leases anymore due to job uncertainty and a genuine awakening to the fact that when we are in debt we are doing all we do for the gain of others and that the ICE is responsible directly for the worsening city air and noise quality at least. We won’t even start about the overall environment damage we are just realising we are causing by having these tin boxes everywhere….

    This must lead to a lot of folk quitting ICE cars for good, especially before oil tiptoes back upto $150! I know I am, my Z has been up for sale for 6 months now. I have an electric bike now and carsharing is available to all here so with all electric cars happening soon from Nissan/Peugeot/Better Place as well (including Battery swaps in 2 mins, all leased, auto performance and software updates, no maintanence etc. etc.) by 2012, I think we may quit the new ICE car buying habit for a while… Till then my bet is people who can, will be selling their motors as quick as possible to get on a bike of some sort and use the ever better public transport systems and pay off their debts.

    The caveat of course is that there is still a sizeable wealthy bunch of people still with plenty to burn and who are still burning on new metal etc. Check this space if Football sponsorship stops or if this really is just a slight bear market rally :)

  11. James C said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 6:12 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Coh dear i dunno there always seems to be money lying around even though there’s a credit crunch and you would never have guessed that Fiat would be taking over GM Europe baring in mind that they were in financial difficulties not so long ago

  12. heinz said...
    Friday May 15, 2009 at 9:22 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Fiat guaranteed German unions just few jobs will be sacrificed in Germany because Fiat has already half-shut factories in Italy. Currently Fiat builds quite everything in Poland.

  13. tele said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 2:47 am Link to comment Report comment

    It’s getting to be a strange inbread world.
    So if Fiat buys Vauxhall, Chrysler could end up selling GTO’s. Of course, they should never have called it a GTO. It’s a cool car, but it isn’t a GTO.

  14. RobiNZ said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 4:53 am Link to comment Report comment

    Amazing how well that $3 billion GM gave Fiat was invested.

    I’m a Fiat fan so hope this all works out, could be the last chance for long term survival or the final straw…

  15. svrallo svrallone said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 11:43 am Link to comment Report comment

    right now i’m concerned only about saving jobs. Marchionne looks way relaxed and confident about this merging-relvolution-thing and everything is going as planned in non suspicious times (becoming bigger and worldwide-er). And as Paul said in every way you look at this there’s something positive. The only “problems” remaining are managing the massive volume of the resulting group and employees number. This is a real problem, i mean is not something that can just be resolved by the company, the whole problem of the jobs in europe is a bit of a mess with delocalization, relocalization, emerging nations that goes up and down, jobs cost that decrease where is high and increase where is low, etc etc. I wish they won’t reduce too much the numbers of employees but for sure they won’t work full time.

  16. The Stig said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Whats up with the long comments? :-?

  17. The Stig said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Might as well

  18. The Stig said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Fiat taking over Vauxhall et al could have one of two effects; Either Fiat sensibly gets rid of all the American crap like the Zafira, 9-5 and the entire Chrysler brand and merges and reinvents Vauxhall/Opel with tasteful and good cars a la Insignia and turns Saab into a sort of Lancia-but-without-the-ba d-reputation and everyones happy or It lets them continue the way they are, causing Fiat itself to go under dragging the rest with it. I know which I prefer.

  19. Mikeado said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 8:34 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I have a bad feeling about this.

    Whilst an Alfa 159 with Insignia underpinnings is a great idea, Herr Piech is right. If there’s no-one in this mix with masses of money, things aren’t going to fix quickly.

    Mind you, Fiat owns Ferrari, who are about to make millions from selling £50 prancing horse pens on Regent St., so money should slowly roll in…

    But what about the Luton factory??!! We need to know!

  20. Mikeado said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Stig, Foreman blogs are usually full of big comments, because there’s much to debate in the car industry, be it companies buying eachother or a huge ‘green energy’ debate, or whatever. It’s the sensible/intelligent bit of

  21. slartibartfast said...
    Saturday May 16, 2009 at 9:10 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Zafira and 9-5 are NOT American crap, they are Eurpeam crap. GM should get rid of the American crap nevertheless.

  22. shamzahm said...
    Sunday May 17, 2009 at 12:18 am Link to comment Report comment

    Study history! Study history!
    Fiat should learn a lesson from GM. Why make the same mistake as the Americans?

  23. svrallo svrallone said...
    Sunday May 17, 2009 at 12:53 am Link to comment Report comment

    about the english factory i think that will not be problems, for these reason:
    1)uk governments is in deep s***t, they were pumping money before and they’re too much occupied now to refuse small cash, eventually given by the nationalised banks, so they can move a little all the balance and say “hey look at this we’re still a bank we’re giving money, buy our shares and stocks or whatever you call bits of company in uk” Also, manufacturing factory now are few and need to be preserved.
    2)the uk is a crucial market for opel cars, they’re always been a real competitor for vw and fords there, and shutting down uk factory will destroy all the advantages on the competitors, including the fact that the new opel line up is quite good and most of the papers speak nice about that.
    3)Most of the public cars there are, are opels, like the police astras, so even this fact is important because public contracts gives stability in the times and a bit of breath to the factories. Opels sharing the gm projects of electric cars, plus the chrys. projects and fiats projects make a good base to work about public experiment of eco industry and public car sharing (we were speaking about these arguments some times ago but i’ve just forgotten everything)
    4) uk jobs aren’t the most costly in this situation. If the italian government acts for the very first time as government italian jobs losses will be highly reduced. And german jobs has been armoured by their government, but they must find some sort of balance because the higher number and costs are there, and yes the factories are new and efficient, but still too bigger for the actual sales. Some jobs losses is still better than all the jobs gone, even if every job gone is a disaster for the real man with real kids that need real bread (i need to write it, i feel bad speaking of cutting jobs)

  24. KevinB said...
    Sunday May 17, 2009 at 11:48 am Link to comment Report comment

    They are never taking over GM Europe. Biggest part of the deal is Opel, and the german goverment, doesn´t want Opel to be taken over by Fiat.

    Fiat is nearly as bancrupt as GM. And as Ferdinand Piech said: Two sick in a bed, don´t make one healthty. And Piech knows what he is talking about, the company he runs (VW) is healthy, the other one he owns (Porsche 10% of Porsche Holding and 13,6% of Porsche itself) is healthy as well.

    I said long ago, GM will be run under Chapter 11, to make a brand new start, and Opel will be swallowed by Magna. Believe me

  25. M Paul Lloyd said...
    Sunday May 17, 2009 at 1:09 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I fear this is all going to end very badly for everyone. :(

  26. morgo said...
    Monday May 18, 2009 at 9:54 am Link to comment Report comment

    The warts of the Fiat deal are one thing, but the alternative is staggering.

    Opel would be owned by (1) Magna that has suspended paying dividends and doesn’t want more than 20% anyway, (2) some shadowy Russian bank probably owned by Putin and his spook mates or the mafia (these could be actually the same), and (3) GAZ, the Russian carmaker still stuck at 1960s Fiat technology and probably insolvent.

    Getting into bed with this lot sounds at best a recipe for a wild night and raises the potential of getting badly screwed.

  27. pw4 said...
    Monday May 18, 2009 at 2:14 pm Link to comment Report comment

    FWIW another existing link between the companies is that the Holden (GM in Australia) engine plant exports V6s used in Alfas as well as in Saabs and Opels.

  28. 5th gear illigeal said...
    Monday May 18, 2009 at 3:00 pm Link to comment Report comment -draft/

  29. 5th gear illigeal said...
    Monday May 18, 2009 at 3:00 pm Link to comment Report comment

    noooooooooooooooooooooooo oooooooooooooooooooo -draft/

  30. Joe King said...
    Monday May 18, 2009 at 3:13 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I find interesting the remarks made by other motor manufactures regarding Fiat ambitions.
    You don’t here Alex Ferguson, making unkind remarks about Middleborough.
    Volkswagens comments are only made, in fear of an expanding rival. Anyway they should be grateful to Alfa Romeo. The Alfa Sud was the inspiration for Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit, which saved them from going bust.
    Magna International. Appear to be dreamers. They tried to take over Aston Martin. They were shown the door in Chrysler takeover. Their business partner Gaz, has just walked away from LDV vans.
    OK, they own Puch which had in the past assembled the PUCH 500, under licence from Fiat. Also made the Mercedes G wagon and other low volume work. But it would be like asking a brick layer to fit your windows. He could probably do it but not totally geared up for the work.
    Rember Fiat, are not Johnny come lately. There designed, for example, the Virgin Pendolino trains.
    They sell over 2 million engines a year, to other manufactures including the Japanese.
    For information about Fiat, check out their companies.
    Case New Holland, Comau, Magneti Marelli and Teksid.

  31. Tak said...
    Monday May 18, 2009 at 8:42 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I fear that Fiat is biting off too big of a lump here. I remember Feedback over here in The Hague, a franchise in musical instruments. First the store burned down. With the insurance money they opened two new stores and then bought out a competitor. That’s three stores in one town. Then they opened a new outlet in another town, all in one year. Of course they went bust. From fire to bankruptcy in one year.

  32. scudy said...
    Wednesday May 20, 2009 at 5:51 pm Link to comment Report comment

    spot on king.. finally some common sense..(not so common on this site…:( ) vw were bought out by porsche btw and Mr.VW Flick didn’t even notice.. fiat are just at the beginning of what they’ve been aiming at for decades and rightly so !!!

  33. Fraser said...
    Wednesday May 20, 2009 at 6:02 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Fiat is being very brave here and i think we need to look aupon this with respect. Not many companys of any sort will be interested in buying three whole companys all at once. Lets just hope they can keep bring out great cars and not horrid little eco shoe boxes with wheels on the side!

  34. ishwar said...
    Thursday May 21, 2009 at 5:48 pm Link to comment Report comment

    does anybody like the dodge viper i think its the best car in the world. yes i know its not the fastest and it may not handle well but i love it anybody else with me.

  35. scudy said...
    Thursday May 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm Link to comment Report comment

    \34 wrong place, wrong time… and by judging from the enormous number of responses..: za ancer ist NO.

  36. svrallo svrallone said...
    Friday May 22, 2009 at 11:39 am Link to comment Report comment

    well it seems that magna is going to take opel. well if what i read about magna is true, now the question is the next month who will take for free from the german state the corpse of opel? bmw or vw?
    a meditative svrallo

  37. Sluggysan said...
    Monday May 25, 2009 at 2:51 am Link to comment Report comment

    Hold on – is this the same Magna that owns MEC and about 40% of North American horse racing?

    *insane laughter*

    Yeah. Um, no. GM Europe should run away from that. Fiat would be far less insane.

  38. KarMa said...
    Wednesday May 27, 2009 at 9:08 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Being Magna the company that makes jeeps and chryslers for Europe, plus the (quite dreadful) BMW X3, I don’t see the point.
    It is quite bad that these decisions have to be taken right before the European elections, even if the German government usually doesn’t cause big crashes just to be popular and “saving the egg today and who cares about the dead chicken tomorrow”… this is usually the Italian liberals’style of presenting themselves to the elections: “woo-hoo it’s a great victory, we kept Alitalia at home and didn’t cut” -one month later- “whoops, we have to give it away for free, it’s your fault, it’s the fault of evil communistic trade unionists and you evil communistic citizens didn’t spend enough in tickets as well, we tried”.

    Let’s hope that Angela doesn’t copy B-style.

  39. KarMa said...
    Friday May 29, 2009 at 6:02 pm Link to comment Report comment


    …it seems they did prefer Magna, and therefore Russian and Canadian capital instead of EU-Italian-USA money. Good luck, then, and so long for “German political coherence” about the EU, which they tend to rule when the topic is industry.
    It might be the “right” move, and it does mean a step forward integration of Russian capital in the EU, but it is neither a liberal or a UE-based one.

  40. Joe King said...
    Friday May 29, 2009 at 6:43 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Read this warning 20090316/120584232.html

  41. KarMa said...
    Saturday May 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Yep, that hits the point.
    There’re quite some good sources of information on Magna’s Russian capital part (also the Financial Times is quite clear on the subject). Enfavouring Magna is something “weird”, understandable only taking into consideration the direct control of prime materials, aka mines, but closing both eyes on HOW it happened, which is something west european politicians usually justify with the usual “Aw, c’mon, you couldn’t legally be rich in the Soviet Union”… which is true, but, even skipping the ethical part of the game, it doesn’t mean “stable” a tiny bit.

  42. Joe King said...
    Monday June 1, 2009 at 9:23 am Link to comment Report comment

    Fiat says the combined entity will need funding of about 7 billion euros over the next two years, assuming no cash or financial debt contributions from Fiat or GM. The plan will mean finding “another production mission within Fiat Group” for its Termini Imerese plant, and “another mission” for the Luton plant in the UK.
    From the Fiat statement above, you can see that Fiat had plans for the Luton plant.

    Remember Fiat already has offices in Luton. Where they supply car manufacturing plant Inc robots etc to other car manufactures. Inc Ford, Nissan and Mini. Luton already has a large Italian population and a great tradition of working hard and building up Britain. As they did in the Brick factories in Bedford after the Second World War.

  43. Dave In Aus said...
    Monday June 1, 2009 at 2:41 pm Link to comment Report comment

    So the Russians are buying GM Europe! As they are incapable of making a quality product, I forsee Fiat eventually owning Opel/Vauxhall,as Magna is itself insolvent, and cannot rely on state aid forever. Sooner or later all car companies will have to start making cars that people want, not what thay think they can sell.

  44. KarMa said...
    Monday June 1, 2009 at 2:53 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Fiat definitely needs to restore Left-hand drive cars again… it will probably be “expensive ones in the UK, cheapos in India”.

    Please do consider that FIAT makes no mistery in willing to reduce the Italian production, since Central European working rights are considered something too much to cope with, considering that most Italian FIAT factories, are ageing and it would cost too much to make them “politically correct for 21st century standards”.

    …Plus Italians tend to be either “homey” people or “not homey a tiny bit”, without grey areas in the middle, and Italy still is the European Country overcrowded and overbuilt the most.

  45. KarMa said...
    Monday June 1, 2009 at 3:12 pm Link to comment Report comment

    Dave, take care that Magna is indeed insolvent, but they seem to be in a privileged position in getting prime materials from Russian mines, which is most probably why banks don’t complain about that too much.

  46. Lloydy said...
    Monday June 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm Link to comment Report comment

    I like the fiat VXR picture haha. Now draw it with bits falling off it, might look italian then.

    Vauxhall should be british owned or vauxhall/opel german owned. I like the second one, but the prices of vauxhalls would shoot up. But vauxhall UK sounds good, then we’d get ourselves out of this economy, and have some nice shiny new vauxhalls. just one rule though if this happened. NO CHAVY UPGRADES MOTORWORLD!!! ;)

  47. Joe King said...
    Tuesday June 2, 2009 at 10:49 am Link to comment Report comment

    Not exactly on the subject but still topical. I see that UK’s most unreliable make Porsche.
    http://www.reliabilityind  ?apc=3128339010848601&se archtype=relindex#
    Now have big financial problems. m/articles/4503/

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