While this scenario would be profitable for GM in the short and mid-term, it would come as a shock to Germany and its role as the home of the world's best cars. When the Chinese aspirations leaked about three weeks ago, Angela Merkel reportedly contacted Volkswagen Group chairman Martin Winterkorn -- whom she has learned to like and trust in the course of several future mobility summits. Perceiving the Opel issue as a key matter of national interest, she is believed to be investigating the conditions under which VW might be willing to step in and assist. It should be interesting to see where they all stand when a Chinese delegation tours Germany in late June.
Predictably, VW was not exactly fire and flames when the first rumors filtered through to Wolfsburg. After all, the last thing Europe's leading player needs is one more brand, let alone an additional competitor in the volume segment. Even more to the point, VW no longer wants to be seen as an aggressive predator with a habit of polishing off ailing automakers. True, Ferdinand Piech would still like to buy the odd complementary asset such as Alfa-Romeo - but surely not Opel, which has for decades been Volkswagen's arch-rival. But now management is considering the option. Comments a senior manager who must remain nameless:
"Our initial response was 'no way.' We thought we cannot handle this. But then we thought again, along the lines of making the best of it. We could for instance position Skoda against Hyundai, Seat to fight Kia, and Opel to challenge Toyota. This would take the VW brand out of the line of fire and open up new opportunities. Of course, we still want to be number one by 2018. Wouldn't it be ironic if GM helped us to get there a little earlier by relinquishing Opel and watching us turn it from a liability to an asset?"
For the time being, however, VW is not keen to get involved - despite having a 20 billion Euro cash reserve and a brand new modular components set Opel would probably die for. VW does have plenty of experience in multi-brand handling, and with a little help from the corporate production wizards, those slow-moving Opel assembly lines could be sped up quite easily. The only real worry is the Ruesselsheim Tech Centre, where several thousand layoffs would likely be inevitable.