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GM Says Volkswagen’s Winterkorn Fanned Rumors of Opel Sale

General Motors Co., the automaker that has lost $14.5 billion in Europe since 1999, said Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn is stoking speculation that GM’s German-based Opel unit is for sale.

Winterkorn was quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saying that if Opel were for sale, a Chinese automaker would be more likely than Hyundai Motor Co. to buy it. The comment “continues a regrettable pattern of fanning speculation” that Opel is on the sales block, Detroit-based GM said on its website.

German magazines Der Spiegel and Auto Bild reported last month that GM may be considering a sale of Opel. GM has called such reports speculation and hasn’t commented on them. The company said it is making progress in restructuring the business.

“He shouldn’t have said anything,” Maryann Keller, principal of auto-industry consulting company Maryann Keller & Associates in Stamford, Connecticut, said of Winterkorn’s comments. “To suggest that only a Chinese company would be interested is unseemly.”

GM said in May its European operations would have broken even in the first quarter without a $395 million charge to goodwill. The carmaker lost $1.8 billion in Europe last year. Opel’s market share in Europe rose to 7.4 percent from 7 percent for the first five months of this year.

Carsten Krebs, a Volkswagen spokesman, confirmed that Winterkorn made the remarks at a press event in Berlin yesterday. Winterkorn was speculating who might buy Opel if it was for sale and didn’t say the unit is definitively for sale, Krebs said.

‘He Only Speculated’

“He only speculated,” Krebs said. “The journalist asked him a question and he speculated. If you read it properly, he doesn’t think GM is selling Opel.”

GM rose 7 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $30.75 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have declined 17 percent this year.

Keller said GM would have a tough time selling Opel. Chinese companies would want the technology in Opel’s cars, which are used for GM vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu and several Buick models, while GM would want to keep intellectual property rights, making a deal difficult to reach, she said.

“If GM sold Opel to a Chinese company, it would only hasten their ability to eat GM’s lunch,” Keller said. “Without the intellectual property, GM would only be selling some high-cost plants.”

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