PSA Chief to Meet French, U.K. Officials in Opel Approval Push

Updated on
  • Tavares to confer on takeover with U.K.’s May, France’s Sapin
  • Leading U.K. union schedules discussion with Tavares

A customer enters an Opel automobile dealership in Berlin.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

PSA Group Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares will meet with government leaders in the U.K. and France this week to push his plan to buy General Motors Co.’s Opel and Vauxhall brands.

Tavares will meet French Economy Minister Michel Sapin on Wednesday morning and U.K. Prime Minster Theresa May at a date that hasn’t yet been announced. The CEO already spoke to French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Sunday, the premier’s office said. To win support for the takeover, the maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars will pledge to maintain Opel’s independence, honor existing collective labor agreements and continue to invest in all four of its German sites until at least 2020, Bild am Sonntag reported.

Carlos Tavares

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

British and German leaders are trying to prevent job cuts as PSA seeks to acquire GM’s European operations to gain a bigger slice of a fiercely competitive auto market. Both Paris-based PSA and Opel are low-margin, mass-market manufacturers with production in countries with high labor costs, and they face common challenges including tightening pollution standards.

GM and PSA, which disclosed talks on Feb. 14, are discussing a valuation for Opel of roughly $2 billion as the automakers push to reach an agreement as soon as the end of this week, people familiar with the matter said on Friday. The price would comprise about $1 billion in cash and the assumption of roughly $1 billion in liabilities, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are private.

PSA shares fell as much as 1.8 percent and were trading down 1.4 percent at 18.27 euros as of 12 p.m. in Paris. The stock has gained 18 percent this year.

The French manufacturer is scheduled to report 2016 earnings on Thursday, and people familiar with the matter have said that’s the target date for reaching an agreement with Detroit-based GM, though a transaction may be delayed or even fall apart, given the complexities of the merger. 

The takeover plan shocked leaders across Europe who were already contending with Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, a chaotic French presidential election that includes a nationalist groundswell for Marine Le Pen, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reelection bid. German political leaders especially are pushing for job-preservation guarantees.

Workforce Figures

PSA has a global workforce of 184,000 employees, while Opel’s totals 35,600, with about half in Germany and 4,500 in Vauxhall’s home country of the U.K.

While no binding guarantees have been made so far to secure jobs or sites, there are “constructive signs” for an agreement, Matthias Machnig, Germany’s deputy economy minister and the government’s liaison on the deal, said Monday on ARD television.

Opel chief Karl-Thomas Neumann said in a letter to employees on Friday that the Ruesselsheim, Germany-based division’s works council and IG Metall union are closely involved in the talks. In its meetings with government leaders, PSA will promise not to carry out forced layoffs until next year, according to the Bild report.

U.K. Question

A key sticking point in the negotiations is identifying ways to reduce costs that would earn support from labor leaders and governments, while still making the deal financially feasible given the companies’ overlapping product portfolios and overcapacity in the European auto market. A critical point is how a combined PSA-Opel can maintain U.K. production capacity after the models built there are redesigned, the people said.

Tavares will also meet this week with Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest labor union. McCluskey wants to ensure that PSA and Tavares “understand fully” that “thousands of dedicated U.K. workers deserve a strong backer and a positive future,” he said in a statement Sunday.

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