TURIN, Italy -- Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is convinced that a merger of Fiat Group's car business with General Motors' Opel brand is the best way to give Opel a future.
"I'm offering the German government a car business that will be effectively debt-free and I will take on Opel's liabilities, including pensions. I told them: if you have a better offer, take it," Marchionne told The Economist in an interview published Friday.
Marchionne's line plays on the trademark "If you can find a better car, buy it" advertising pitch of former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, who won the U.S. loan guarantees that saved the automaker from bankruptcy in the early 1980s.
GM's planned sale of Opel has pitted Fiat against Magna International, and both companies have presented proposals for the carmaker to the German government.
Marchionne said the proposed Fiat-Opel deal depends on the willingness of European governments, chiefly Germany's, to provide 5 billion-7 billion euros in loan guarantees to cover GM Europe's unfunded pension liabilities and debts.
Marchionne has said he will gradually reduce Fiat and Opel's capacity by 22 percent by slimming factories instead of closing them, although this will mean losing savings of about 250 million euros a year.
Marchionne has already said that combining Opel and Fiat could save at least 1 billion euros a year, mostly by sharing platforms in volume segments. Marchionne was also quoted as saying Fiat would be happy to use Opel's new C and D platforms for its cars.
"We can achieve convergence on all the big platforms by 2012. Ultimately, I need to do this with Chrysler, but Opel gets me there much faster and with more immediate returns," Marchionne told The Economist.
GM is seeking financial support from European governments where it has manufacturing operations to prevent Opel running out of cash in the coming months. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has linked state aid to GM finding private investors for Opel.
The German government will have a big say in Opel”s future because the carmaker is headquartered there and most of its cars are built in Germany.
Marchionne has promised to keep open Opel's three main assembly plants in Germany, although there are fears that factories in Belgium and England will close.