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VW lacks restraint, says GM

Amped: Opel's Ampera plug-in hybrid is likely to join the German company's Australian line-up in the next few years.

GM accuses VW chief of “fanning speculation” of Opel sale on eve of Ampera launch

18 Jul 2011

GENERAL Motors has accused Volkswagen of attempting to spoil the launch of Opel’s Ampera plug-in hybrid by inflaming speculation that its German subsidiary is for sale.

GM took the extraordinary step of issuing a press release criticising comments made by Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn at press event in Berlin last Tuesday (July 13).

“General Motors has a long-standing policy of not commenting on rumors and speculation. Unfortunately, some of our competitors do not show similar restraint,” said GM in a press statement the following day.

“In Wednesday’s edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn commented on rumors regarding Opel, which continues a regrettable pattern of fanning speculation as Opel makes solid progress in its restructuring, in generating improved operating results and more.

“In this case, it was timed to the incredibly positive media reaction to the groundbreaking Opel Ampera extended-range electric vehicle, which has been hailed as ‘a stroke of genius’, ‘the start of a new era’ and, as a leading industry expert said, places Opel three years ahead of VW.”

A Volkswagen spokesman told Bloomberg that Prof Winterkorn, who had said that a Chinese car-maker would be more likely than Hyundai to buy Opel if it was for sale, had merely responded to a question from a journalist.

 center imageLeft: Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn. Below: Opel Ampera.

Speculation that GM may again be considering the sell-off of Opel, which will be relaunched as a brand in Australia next year, began last month when German magazines Der Spiegel and Auto Bild reported that Opel’s split from GM was imminent.

GM dropped plans to sell its European affiliate – including Britain’s Vauxhall and Europe’s Opel brands – as part of a restructuring plan before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, when it sold Saab, Saturn and Hummer, and killed off the Pontiac brand.

Now it says Opel, which has been part of the GM family since 1928 and has ordered an additional 2000 Ampera models due to strong customer demand and positive press reviews, “remains important to the company”.

“GM is pleased with Opel’s solid progress over the last year in turning around its business, and the company continues to invest in outstanding products for the European market, as the Ampera shows,” said GM.

GM lost $US1.6 billion in Europe last year and a total of $US14.5 billion in Europe since 1999.

In May, however, GM said its European operations would have broken even in the first quarter of this year without a $US395 million “accounting adjustment” as part of its restructuring.

Opel’s European market share during the first five months of 2011 increased from 7.0 to 7.4 per cent and the car-maker is expected to become profitable from next year on the back of new products and its global expansion strategy.

“The GM senior management in Detroit has expressed its pleasure at our progress, noted that our recovery is ahead of plans, that our market share is up, that our financial results are up and that we have strength not just in terms of sales, but also in our engineering capability,” Vauxhall/Opel chairman Nick Reilly told Autocar on July 9.

“We are way ahead of where we expected to be and in 2012 we should see the full benefit of our restructuring, which will drive costs down at the same time as new products come on stream and give us hope of driving up our market share.”

Opel’s initial Australian range will comprise the Corsa, Astra and Insignia, but the German maker will extend the Astra family with GTC hot-hatch, coupe and cabriolet models, while a new Zafira people-mover, the Ampera hybrid, a small SUV and a second city-car are expected to emerge from 2012.

Volkswagen, meantime, last week announced a record 4.1 million vehicle deliveries during the first half of this year, when sales increased by 14 per cent in a global automotive industry that increased 6.1 per cent in the same period.

Europe’s largest auto-maker made headlines last year when it announced an ambitious plan to become the world’s largest car company by 2018. GM is expected to reclaim that title from earthquake-affected Toyota this year.

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