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General Motors fires back at Volkswagen

Thu, 14 Jul 2011 00:00:00 -0700

General Motors issued a terse response this week to published comments by Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, who suggested to the German press that Opel could be sold to a Chinese competitor.

Detroit-based GM called Winterkorn's comments “regrettable” and accused him of “fanning speculation.”

Opel was nearly sold to Magna and Russian investors in the wake of GM's 2009 bankruptcy. But then-CEO Ed Whitacre and the corporate board reversed that decision, igniting controversy from German political and labor leaders who have long chafed under American oversight.

Opel is a 139-year-old company that has been making cars for more than a century. GM has owned it since 1929.

Opel historically has been a source of key technology and platforms for GM, and many of its improved cars--including the Buick Regal and LaCrosse and the Chevrolet Cruze--are based on European underpinnings.

In a statement, GM said it was “pleased with Opel's solid progress over the last year in turning around its business.” Opel will order 2,000 more Aperas for Europe because of strong demand, the company said.

Opel and GM's British Vauxhall division combined to lose $1.6 billion last year, according to Automotive News Europe.

Winterkorn's comments came as Opel launches the Ampera, Europe's counterpart to the Chevrolet Volt. The VW CEO has long expressed ambitions of passing Toyota and GM to claim the title of world's largest automaker--a claim the other two have long since de-emphasized in light of recent economic and internal troubles.

Current estimates put Toyota and GM neck and neck for the top spot, with VW a surging, though still fairly distant, third place.

By Greg Migliore