LONDON -- UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both sought to speak with PSA CEO Carlos Tavares in the last few days as the executive looks likely to preside over a deal that may put German and UK car jobs at risk.
After two days of trying to find a suitable time to meet in person, May finally had a phone call with the CEO on Wednesday to make the case for Vauxhall cars. A day earlier, Merkel had already had a 30-minute chat with him about protecting Opel workers.
At stake for May is whether, if the French automaker decides to make cuts, Vauxhall could be sacrificed to save Opel. The possibility that politics will play a role cannot be discounted as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
May and Tavares "discussed the importance the UK attaches to Vauxhall's plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton and their shared desire to protect and promote the jobs it supports," the prime minister's office said in an emailed statement. "A particular shared goal was strengthening the UK's automotive supply chain."
In Germany, Merkel is taking a keen interest in Opel during her re-election bid. On the day Tavares and Merkel spoke, he also met Opel labor representatives, assuring them that the automaker would honor existing labor agreements. That message was reinforced in the phone call with the chancellor.
The issue for May, who has pledged an industrial strategy that puts communities first, is how to ensure the safety of 40,000 direct and supply-chain jobs if General Motors sells its European unit to the French automaker.
Losing the two Vauxhall plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton would also undermine her argument to lawmakers, voters and businesses that the UK economy won't suffer because of Brexit.
Ultimately, May might be forced to offer incentives to persuade companies to stay put. A jittery Nissan Motor Co. was persuaded to stick to an investment to build two new SUVs at its Sunderland plant in northeast England after the government promised to try and maintain tariff-free access to the EU.
PSA described the conversation between May and Tavares as "constructive."
PSA said Thursday that the group's earnings jumped 18 percent last year, underscoring its revival three years after being bailed out by the French state and Chinese automaker Dongfeng Motor Co., and buoying its efforts to buy GM.
"We are ready to grab opportunities," Chief Financial Officer Jean-Baptiste de Chatillon said in a conference call. PSA can now "deploy this cash to make profitable investments and invest this money in the best interest of our shareholders."