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Fiat, GM's Opel In Talks

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FRANKFURT — Italian car company Fiat SpA and Canadian car parts maker Magna International Inc. are both interested in a stake of German carmaker Opel, a unit of General Motors Corp., a German official said Thursday.

Roland Koch, the governor of the German state of Hesse, said potential investors including Turin-based Fiat and Aurora, Ontario-based Magna were "lining up" to invest in the company.

"Magna and Fiat have joined this list of possible partners," Koch said.

Koch added that he thought it was good for Opel that there were competing investors interested in the firm, but that there was not any agreement with any party yet.

Earlier Thursday, the online version of Germany's Der Spiegel magazine reported Fiat was close to an agreement to take a majority stake in General Motors Corp.'s entire European business.

Spiegel, citing unidentified sources it said were close to the negotiations, said Fiat was expected to sign a declaration of intent with GM next Tuesday. Fiat, in the meantime, is in well-publicized talks to take a minority 20-percent stake in the U.S. automaker Chrysler LLC in exchange for small car and other technology.

Spiegel cited Opel workers' council chief in Ruesselsheim, Klaus Franz, as saying the works council was against the takeover, which he said would lead to the "dramatic loss of jobs." Franz did not immediately return calls.

Zurich-based GM Europe spokesman Frank Klaas confirmed to the AP Thursday there are ongoing talks, but wouldn't specify with whom.

"We're in talks with several investors," Klaas said. "We won't however provide any information on the current situation, on which investors are involved, and ask for understanding concerning that."

Fiat declined to comment on the matter.

GM and Fiat aren't strangers. The two companies had a deal between 2000 and 2005, working together on motors and gearboxes, which put joint parts in the Fiat Punto and Opel Corsa compact models, for example.

Harald Lieske, another workers' council official at Opel's Eisenach plant near Erfurt, told the AP he thought cooperation with Fiat was fundamentally positive. "Naturally, the Opel brand's integrity shouldn't be infringed" upon through any deal, Lieske said.

Fiat Group CEO Sergio Marchionne planned a conference call with analysts later in the day to discuss first-quarter earnings.

Fiat has until an April 30 deadline to reach a deal with Chrysler. The U.S. government has made a deal with Fiat a condition for Chrysler to receive funds it needs to keep operating, or be sold off in pieces.

Marchionne, who has said consolidation in the auto industry over the next two years would leave no more than six global producers, has traveled to the United States several times to work on the deal.

Fiat Chairman Lucia Cordero di Montezemolo said last week that in the "worst case" that Fiat has a Plan B, the news agency ANSA reported.

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On the Net:

http://www.gm.com/europe

http://www.fiat.com

http://www.opel.com