Magna Sberbank buy in to Opel paves way for resurrection

The Opel Trust, which owns 65% of Opel and has the final say on who will buy the car maker, has approved its sale to Magna-Sberbank, after an earlier vote by General Motors.

The bid is won. Canada's Magna and Russia's Sberbank are to share a 55% stake in Opel. GM retains 35% – keeping a strong position in deciding its future.The consortium agreed to keep all plants of Opel in Germany operating and minimize layoffs.

But before the consortium can proceed with the deal, the Opel company should be united under one roof according to Christoph Stuermer of I.H.S Global Insight.

“GM in Europe was not run as a separate company but it was a group of separate entities. Like each GM factory was its own company. So the total count of the GM operations in Europe is 60 independent companies. These companies are all owned but different parts of GM. Some are owned by GM directly some are owned by intermediary holding companies. And all of this needs to be unentangled first.”

Sometime in the future, the money bags in the deal – Sberbank – will sell its share, with no certainty that the stake will stay in Russia.

The German government played an important role in swinging the decision in favour of the Russio-Canadian bid, threatening to pull the plug on funding Opel if GM backed another bidder.

Russia – which has historically developed its auto industry by buying foreign technology – will have to pay, to license GM's know how, according to Elena Sakhnova, Chief Analyst at VTB Capital.

“The most important thing is , of course, technology. Russia will get access to technologies and this was exactly why Russia was so much insisting on this deal. The Russian automotive industry is suffering a lot and this is mainly because of low quality and lack of technology. So technology is really-really important for the long term survival of the Russia industry.”

Russian car maker Gaz, owned by Oleg Deripaska, is involved in the deal solely as Sberbank's partner. So while it hopes to gain technology, it will not own any shares in Opel. But it has a long history of working with Magna, and had planned to set up a joint venture with GM in Russia prior to GM's bankruptcy.

150 thousands cars are likely to be produced in Russia on the Gaz group plant. But Opel is not planning to shift more of its production to Russia, preferring to produce cars for the promising Russian and CIS markets at its existing plants in Europe. GM's representatives said it had been a closely fought battle, and added that they were still keen on working with the private equity company, Ripplewood Holdings.

But Thursday's victory for Magna and Sberbank ends the long running question of WHO will take Opel forward.