TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan -- Ford Motor Co. is closely watching Magna International Inc.'s bid for General Motors Co.'s Opel unit, but believes it could continue working with Magna even if the supplier giant also owns a stake in a rival automaker, Ford CFO Lewis Booth said.
"We've had discussions with Magna about ensuring the appropriate safeguards for our intellectual property," Booth said. "We'll work with Magna to make sure we mitigate any ramifications."
Magna is locked in a battle for Opel with Belgium-based financial investor RHJ International, but GM has yet to make clear its preference on which company will get a majority stake in the 100-year-old Germany-based unit.
If Magna's bid for Opel is accepted, it will create the unusual situation of a supplier running a carmaker, while bidding on parts for future vehicles from other automakers.
"I see this as unprecedented," Booth told a small group of reporters over dinner. He said it was not comparable to parts sharing among automakers, such as Ford's arrangement in Europe to buy small diesel engines from French automaker PSA/Peugeot-Citroen.
Observers have said that other suppliers might try to exploit the situation, seeking to win parts contracts away from Magna by arguing that doing business with the Canadian-Austrian supplier in effect strengthens Opel or that Opel might learn of other automakers' plans through Magna.
Booth said he didn't think that was a worry.
"Magna's a good supplier," he said. "We like working with them, and we'll manage the issues as they come up."
Industry observers have warned that Magna could run into trouble with other carmakers if it wins control of Opel.
Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech said he would not like to see one of the companys major suppliers become a competitor.
But Magna co-CEOs Siegfried Wolf and Don Walker have both said Magna would place a clear barrier between the suppliers auto parts business and Opel.
The Berlin government and the four German states that have Opel production plants favor Magna's bid for Opel because they believe it will result in fewer job losses. GM has said RHJ's offer would be easier to implement.
One source close to Magna and another close to RHJ told Reuters they expect GM to signal its preference on Friday.