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Could PSA-Opel go back to GM-FCA?

by David Zatz on

FCA leader Sergio Marchionne has made no bones about want to merge with the giant General Motors, now under the capable control of engineer Mary Barra after years of wandering at sea. Eventually, the FCA CEO gave up, and said FCA was making all its plans under the “no-merge” assumption.

But could the sale of GM’s European operation, Opel Vauxhall, end that? Possibly.

That assumes, of course, that it would be a sale of Opel to PSA, rather than some sort of intimate operating/sharing agreement. GM has lost around $8 billion on Opel since 2007, when the giant tried to sell it. GM has already pulled its manufacturing from Russia and Australia, focusing on profits rather than sales. The announcement was vague: “PSA Group and General Motors confirm they are exploring numerous strategic initiatives aiming at improving profitability and operational efficiency, including a potential acquisition of Opel Vauxhall by PSA.”

On PSA’s end, the question is whether they could combine and close plants; PSA has ten plants in Europe, while GM has eleven, according to Automotive News.  Two of Opel/Vauxhall’s German unions have already complained about the talks, and neither the French nor the German government will make closures in those countries easy.

A partnership with FCA may be in GM’s hip pocket, if they do sell Opel and then want to return to Europe. FCA has a major European dealer network, and two important brands sold globally — Maserati and Jeep.  Both could be integrated within the GM world.

This would be the right time for a merger; Federal authorities are unlikely to intervene. Chances are the Chrysler brand would be dropped, but the Dodge and Ram brands are both strong and would likely survive, though some components and factories would not. Dealership duplication is another question entirely.

At the moment, there are both complementary and duplicate strengths. GM has four major US brands, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac; all have a clear focus. In the US, FCA’s strong brands are Dodge, Ram, and Jeep; only Ram is really duplicated at GM.  (Jeep has some overlap, but not much.) Maserati and Jeep are globally strong and have no direct GM counterparts; while Ram is starting to become a global brand and Alfa Romeo is still an unknown.

The main overlap would be in pickups and, to a degree, large cars — if you ignore the rather specialist nature of the Dodge line. The Camaro and Challenger are different enough to both survive, at least until 2021. And, of course, GM has been known to look lustfully at the CTC itself.

Could it happen? Perhaps. We have it on our “unlikely, but we’ve been surprised before” list.  See the Automotive News article on this topic.

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