Opel dealers aim for minority stake in company

Dealers for General Motors' Opel unit hope to help save the European automaker and secure a minority stake by investing up to $680 million, their association said Friday.

Representatives of the European Opel Dealer Association from 25 countries met in Vienna to endorse the plan, originally floated in March. They hope to secure a seat on Opel's supervisory board with their proposal.

The plan foresees that, over three years, Opel and Vauxhall dealers would put ($204 into a fund for each new car sold.

It was unclear how large the resulting stake might be. Euroda's deputy chairman, Albert Still, said a 10%-15% range looks likely, with the realistic maximum at 20%.

Euroda chairman Jaap Timmer said in a telephone conference call that "we still have to fill in a lot of details" on how the plan might work. If a major investor wants money up front, "we will have to negotiate that," he said.

Timmer said the dealers hope to start talks next week with GM, Opel and European governments, and also would like to talk with potential major investors to determine whether they are interested.

Italy's Fiat wants to make GM Europe, including Opel, part of a global powerhouse also including Chrysler.

As a possible alternative, Canadian auto parts maker Magna International has said it is in talks about options for Opel that might include taking a minority stake, but otherwise has given few details.

The German government expects both of those suitors to give more details of their plans by May 20.

Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne on Friday told journalists in Turin, Fiat's hometown, that "the plan for Opel is almost ready, we will present it by May 20."

Opel parent GM faces a June 1 deadline to restructure or file for bankruptcy. Berlin is keen to ensure the future of Opel — which employs some 25,000 people in Germany, nearly half GM Europe's total work force.

Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg says Germany is willing to consider temporarily transferring Opel to a trustee, a move meant to help negotiations if at least one investor's plan looks promising and GM has to file for bankruptcy protection. But he made clear Friday that Opel itself could file for bankruptcy.

Euroda's Still said every country's dealer association endorsed pursuing the plan for a minority stake on Friday apart from Finland's representatives, who abstained.

"To what extent our ideas can be fulfilled of course depends on negotiations and to what extent investors want us in a new Opel-Vauxhall company," he said.

"It could be historic that, for the first time, dealers participate in their manufacturer to a noteworthy extent and so gain a certain degree of influence on the future policy of the producer," Still added.

Opel spokesman Andreas Kroemer said the company welcomes "the dealers' dedication to Opel and strong bond with the brand." He did not comment further on the dealers' plan.