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…