DUESSELDORF/BERLIN (Reuters) - General Motors GM.UL has paid back a loan from Germany and slightly lowered its target for job cuts at struggling European unit Opel.
Nick Reilly, the boss brought in from GM’s thriving Asian operations to help revamp Opel, told reporters in Duesseldorf on Tuesday that his plans now call for cutting 9,000 to 9,500 jobs at Opel and British sister brand Vauxhall.
GM will present that plan to Opel’s labor leaders on Wednesday, having decided not to sell Opel to auto parts maker Magna International MGa.TO and Russian lender Sberbank SBER03.MM, who said they would cut 10,000 jobs.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government had supported GM’s plan to sell Opel to Magna, said on Tuesday that GM had also paid back the last of a 1.5 billion euro bridge loan it had made available to Opel.
“I can tell you that the last funds for Opel have been paid back by General Motors,” Merkel said. “I expect at least a thank you letter from General Motors in a few years.”
“German taxpayers have not lost a single cent on the entire Opel operation,” she said.
The U.S. automaker, which has been bailed out by the U.S. government, is revamping operations worldwide but reassured German workers over its immediate plans.
“Bochum remains an important site for us, in the future as well,” Reilly said, referring to Opel’s plant in western Germany.
He said last week that it was too soon to say whether any plants would be closed. “We’ll try not to do it but we still don’t know how we’re going to carry out the production cuts,” Reilly said during a visit to Spain, where Opel’s largest factory is located.
GM has provided scant details on its 3.3 billion euros ($4.92 billion) rescue plan for Opel and European officials are set to discuss possible aid on December 4.
The automaker, which emerged from bankruptcy in July, muddied the waters in the debate over whether it should get state aid when its third-quarter results revealed it had nearly $43 billion in cash at the end of September.
Germany — home to over half of Opel’s 50,000 staff — has given mixed signals on aid since GM’s U-turn on the Magna deal.
EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on Monday that without state aid the revamp could not work.
GM’s Reilly had traveled to Brussels to meet officials including Verheugen, Kris Peeters, the premier of Flanders, where Opel also has a plant, and EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
“General Motors made one point very clear, 100 percent clear, the restructuring plan could only be achieved when European member states with Opel plants give some financial help,” said Verheugen.
Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff and Erik Kirschbaum, writing by Michael Shields and Helen Massy-Beresford; Editing by Jason Neely