Fiat aims for Opel without boosting debt

Fiat Group SpA aims to take over General Motors Corp.’s main European unit without running up debt in a deal that could require billions of dollars in government loan guarantees, Germany’s economy minister said Monday.

BERLIN — Fiat Group SpA aims to take over General Motors Corp.’s main European unit without running up debt in a deal that could require billions of dollars in government loan guarantees, Germany’s economy minister said Monday.

Fiat’s concept — part of a wider plan to build a global powerhouse also including Chrysler — foresees keeping the Opel brand and the unit’s three assembly plants in Germany, Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said after meeting Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne. However, he said there would be a “need for consolidation” and made clear that the future of an engine plant in Kaiserslautern, Germany would be in doubt.

Asked what the plan might mean overall in terms of job losses or plant closures, Guttenberg said Marchionne “hasn’t offered any specific numbers yet, but he described them as not being too dramatic.”

GM has been trying to find investors for noncore and unprofitable assets to help stave off collapse.

On Monday, GM chief executive Fritz Henderson confirmed that the company is negotiating with Fiat about its European operations and said the talks mainly are focused on the Opel and Vauxhall brands.

“We are talking to them, amongst other parties. Not solely Fiat, but several parties who have an interest in making investment in our European business,” he said.

Canada’s largest auto parts company, Magna International Inc. (TSX:MG.A) also confirmed Monday it is preparing a rival bid for the Opel unit and is in talks with the German company, General Motors and German government officials on a transaction that could see Magna take a minority stake in the company.

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