Page last updated at 20:21 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 21:21 UK

The possible buyers of Opel

Opel sign
Four bidders have come forward for Opel

Opel, the main European unit of ailing US car firm General Motors, is set to be acquired by another company.

The contenders were Fiat, Magna, RHJ International, and late entrant Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation.

RHJ pulled out during all-night negotiations on 27 May, while German officials have said that they have insufficient detail of the Chinese bid and are concentrating on the bids from Fiat and Magna.

The German government is expected to choose its preferred bidder on Friday.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

GM, which has its own deadline of 1 June to restructure or face bankruptcy, will take the decision on who can buy Opel and its UK brand Vauxhall.

But the German government will have a key role as it is likely to pay billions of euros to support the firm.

This is because Opel has its headquarters in Germany, where it employs half of its 50,000 workers.

GM's other European business, Sweden's Saab, is being sold off separately.

FIAT

Italian carmaker Fiat is one of the favourites to buy Opel.

However, it has raised alarm bells among Opel staff after it warned of probable job losses.

Fiat has not outlined its plans, but says it will need to cut up to 10,000 jobs, or one-fifth of Opel's staff across Europe.

It has also warned that it will probably have to close one of Opel's four German factories: the engine plant at Kaiserslautern.

This is because at a time of weak global car sales, Fiat already makes the same engines at one of its own factories in Italy.

Fiat's bid for Opel is being led by its chief executive Sergio Marchionne.

Since he took up the top job at the firm in 2004, he has been instrumental in turning around its fortunes.

Fiat has also agreed a separate tie-up with US carmaker Chrysler as it seeks to create a global automotive giant.

The Italian firm is taking an initial 20% stake in Chrysler, which it hopes to extend once Chrysler is able to emerge from US bankruptcy protection.

It is a reversal of fortunes, because GM once had an option to buy Fiat, but bought its way out of that arrangement in 2005.

MAGNA

Magna is a Canadian-Austrian car parts and assembly group that employs 74,350 people.

It is the only one of the contenders to outline its plans for Opel, saying that 10% of the new firm would end up in the hands of Opel employees.

Magna plans to inject between 500m and 700m euros into Opel - none of which would go to GM. However, GM would keep a 35% stake in the company.

Its bid is backed by Russia's state-run Sberbank and Oleg Deripaska's truck firm Gaz, and it has said it wants Opel and GM to gain 20% of the Russian market in the short term.

Magna currently builds vehicles under contract for major carmakers, including Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.

Some German politicians have already indicated that Magna would be their preferred buyer for Opel, because it has pledged to keep open all the firm's four German plants.

However, IHS Global Insight analyst Tim Urqhart says that while this would inevitably count in its favour with a German election looming, it was "no basis to secure a sustainable long-term future for Opel".

Observers say that pledges to protect all the German plants mean that Opel's factory in Antwerp, Belgium, and the Vauxhall sites at Luton and Ellesmere Port in the UK, look more vulnerable.

Co-chief executive Siegfried Wolf has only promised to look for ways to keep these factories open.

At the end of 2008, Magna had operations in 25 countries.

In the quarter to the end of March, the firm made a loss of $200m (£126m), hit by the global slowdown in demand for vehicles.

RHJ INTERNATIONAL - WITHDRAWN FROM PROCESS

RHJ International is a private equity holding company based in Brussels.

Timothy Collins founded the firm in June 2004 and is the single largest shareholder, with a 15.2% stake. He is also chairman of the group's investment and strategy committee.

RHJ has controlling stakes in Asahi Tec Corporation, Columbia Music Entertainment, Honsel International Technologies, Niles, and Phoenix Resorts.

Its portfolio reflects an interest in the automotive parts sector and Japanese firms.

RHJ defines its strategy as buying businesses that are "under-managed" but that have growth potential.

Staff total about 40 individuals, mainly in Brussels, Zurich and Tokyo.

RHJ pulled out of the process during all-night talks with the German government on 27 May.

BEIJING AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY CORPORATION

Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation is China's fifth-largest car producer.

It makes Hyundai cars under contract for the South Korean company and is Daimler's partner in China.

It has given very little detail of its offer and expressed its interest too late to be represented at the talks with the German government on 27 May.

It will have to give a great deal more information if it is to be seriously considered in the process.



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