General Motors to invest €4bn on reviving Opel brand

Investment to fund 23 model launches through 2016

Dan Akerson, General Motors Chairman and Chief Executive Officer delivers a speech 
 at the Adam Opel AG headquarters in RuesselsheimApril 10, 2013. General Motors pledged to invest four billion euros ($5.2 billion) in Opel by the end of 2016 to support new model launches, renewing its commitment to its loss-making European brand. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS TRANSPORT)
. Photo: Reuters

Dan Akerson, General Motors Chairman and Chief Executive Officer delivers a speech at the Adam Opel AG headquarters in RuesselsheimApril 10, 2013. General Motors pledged to invest four billion euros ($5.2 billion) in Opel by the end of 2016 to support new model launches, renewing its commitment to its loss-making European brand. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS TRANSPORT) . Photo: Reuters

Wed, Apr 10, 2013, 18:46

General Motors pledged to invest €4 billion euros in loss-making Opel by the end of 2016 to support new model launches, renewing a commitment to its ailing European brand.

GM is aiming for a slight improvement in its European business this year, but not anywhere near enough to avoid a 14th straight annual loss as car sales on the continent plunge to their lowest in almost two decades.

The company's adjusted operating loss in Europe widened to $1.8 billion last year from $700 million in 2011 and it only expects to achieve profitability in the middle of the decade.

GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson said the investment would help it increase market share by funding the development and launch of 23 new models and 13 new engines through 2016. “We are more convinced than ever that GM must have a strong and successful presence throughout Europe and especially here in Germany. ” Akerson told reporters at Opel's Ruesselsheim headquarters after a meeting of GM’s board of directors.

Speculation has persisted that GM might shift Opel’s assets off its balance sheet into a joint venture with struggling French ally PSA Peugeot Citroen, or even sell Opel, which also includes British sister brand Vauxhall, entirely.

“Opel is key to our success and enjoys the full support of its parent company,” Akerson said.

When asked specifically whether the €4 billion investment pledge guaranteed that Opel would remain a fully-owned unit of GM through 2016, the GM CEO declined to comment. But Opel Chairman Steve Girsky said speculation of a disposal was unfounded: “That’s an old story.”

GM's board met in Ruesselsheim to examine progress in the brand’s turnaround plan dubbed "DRIVE!2022" and the difficulties faced by Europe’s auto industry.

Part of the problem is Opel's underutilised car plants. Carmakers have high fixed costs in the form of manufacturing machinery that depreciates over time, so profits largely depend on how efficient the plants are at churning out cars.

Opel’s factories are running at around 70 per cent capacity on the basis of three shifts of workers assembling cars per day, Opel production chief Peter Thom said. This is lower than the 80-85 per cent generally seen in the industry as necessary to break even.

New product launches should further improve Opel’s bottom line. After the debut of the Adam city car and the Mokka subcompact sport utility vehicle (SUV), it is entering a third market segment with the roll-out of its all-new Cascada cabriolet on April 20th.

Just as crucially, GM is also addressing criticism of Opel’s relatively low fuel efficiency by renewing 80 pe ent of the brand’s engine portfolio by 2016, including an all-new family of 1.6 litre diesels developed entirely in-house.

Although GM is struggling to reform its Opel business, its problems are anything but unique.

Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne said on Tuesday the company's losses in Europe could be worse than expected this year. According to industry estimates, western Europe's car market shrank by roughly 10 per cent in the first quarter.

Reuters