TURIN -- Fiat S.p.A.s boss has confirmed that the automaker wants to form an alliance with General Motors' German subsidiary Opel.
"Now we have to concentrate on Opel. They are our perfect partner," CEO Sergio Marchionne told Fiat-owned newspaper La Stampa in a story published Friday.
A spokesman for Opel declined comment on Marchionne's interview but said: "We are pleased about the interests expressed by several parties."
On Thursday, Fiat closed a deal with Chrysler LLC that gives it an initial 20 percent stake in the U.S. automaker, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
On April 17, Automotive News Europe was first to report that Fiat was considering forming an alliance with GM that would give it a share in Opel, its U.K. sister brand Vauxhall and GMs operations in Latin America.
A partnership of Fiat, Chrysler and parts of GM would create the world's second-largest auto group after Toyota Motor Corp. Together, Fiat, Chrysler, Opel/Vauxhall and GM Latin America sold almost 7 million vehicles in 2008.
The deal would not include GMs Swedish unit Saab or Chevrolet's European operations, sources tell ANE.
General Motors must sell a significant stake in Opel to convince German politicians to use taxpayers' money to provide the cash-strapped carmaker with 2.6 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in loan guarantees.
Plan faces opposition
So far, Opel's union chiefs and some German politicians have spoken out against Fiat merging with Opel. They fear massive job cuts, plant closures and believe a partnership would not work because there is too much overlap between the brands.
Marchionne supports consolidation in the car industry but not at any cost.
"I have never given up for a second my commitment to the Italian system," he told La Stampa. "Together with the unions and the government we must be able to face up to the structural problems responsibly, remaining faithful to the commitments to workers."
Magna considers role in Opel
On April 30, Magna founder Frank Stronach said his company wants to help Opel, but it is too early to say what role it will play.
"We don't see ourselves as a white knight. We only want to help," Stronach was quoted saying to Austria's Kleine Zeitung in an interview published on its Internet site.
Magna intended to remain a car parts supplier but that did not exclude getting into other types of business, he said.
"We supply Opel and it has to be in our interest that Opel does well. The market must not be lost," he said, adding that it was important to preserve existing jobs and create new ones.
"We don't talk about taking a stake. We are saying we want to help. Russia could also play a role in this, allowing Opel to secure its market there," he added.
Stronach said his company had about $1.5 billion in cash reserves and could easily enter into a business without endangering itself.
German Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told Reuters on April 28 that Magna has presented a rival offer to seize control of Opel ahead of Italy's Fiat. Guttenberg spoke after meeting senior representatives of Magna.
Guttenberg said Magna and Fiat have presented rough plans to invest in Opel.
The concepts from Magna and Fiat are very different from each other, Guttenberg said, adding these two were the most substantial plans he had seen so far from potential investors.
Canada's Globe and Mail reported on April 27 that Magna and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska are considering taking a 50 percent share in Opel. Magna would purchase about 20 percent of Opel and Deripaska would possibly combine with Russian banks to pick up another 30 percent, the newspaper said.
GM wants to keep stake
GM favors one major investor rather than a combination of bidders but wants to retain a stake in a new, independent Opel, a company source familiar with the negotiations told ANE on April 28.
GM wants a memorandum of understanding with a bidder in the next two to three weeks, the source said.
GM CEO Fritz Henderson told a news conference on April 27 that talks between Opel and several parties interested in investing in the automaker will continue until mid-May.
Henderson said GM would retain a substantial interest in Opel's European business.
A possible Fiat and GM deal would turn back the clock for the automakers.
Nine years ago, GM bought 20 percent of Fiat Auto for $2.4 billion. The companies combined their European and Latin American purchasing and powertrain operations in two 50-50 joint ventures.
The companies also co-developed the platform that is the basis of the Fiat Grande Punto and the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa small cars, as well as the 1.3-liter diesel engine that powers a number of models produced by the two automakers.
The alliance ended in February 2005 when GM paid Fiat $2 billion to cancel a put option that could have forced GM to buy the remaining 80 percent of Fiat.
John Revill and Reuters contributed to this report.