Can a solar company run a carmaker? And do we really want to find out? Well, Germany’s SolarWorld announced today that it wants to take the plunge into the auto industry with a bid for Adam Opel, the well-known German brand and a subsidiary of struggling General Motors since 1929. But analysts are very skeptical, and GM has flat-out denied the possibility.
“It’s pure speculation,” Geri Lama, a spokeswoman for GM, told us. “Opel is not for sale.”
SolarWorld, which makes solar modules for residences as well as large-scale solar plants, believes it can get Opel to go green, turning the automaker into a producer of more energy-efficient and low-emission vehicles.
SolarWorld said it’s planning to offer €250 million ($313.5 million) in cash, plus another €750 million in bank credit lines. But the company has put some high demands on the deal, saying that the credit lines are conditional on getting German government guarantees, and that a core prerequisite is the complete separation of Opel from GM, as well as compensation payments for all of Opel’s German jobs, totaling €1 billion. It’s not clear from SolarWorld’s statement whether GM is expected to cough up that compensation cash, or if it would come from the government.
Despite the detail SolarWorld is providing, however, industry watchers remain unconvinced such an offer will come to fruition. “This is a great gag,” Juergen Pieper, a car analyst at Bankhaus Metzler, told Reuters, alleging that the company is only making the bid to get itself into the news.
Prior to making a move for the auto industry, SolarWorld has kept itself busy in the world of solar. Last month, it opened a 480,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Oregon, and in June, SolarWorld signed a deal to deliver over €750 million worth of crystalline silicon wafers to Solar Semiconductor.
With its owner, GM — along with Chrysler and Ford Motor — back on Capitol Hill today with the hopes of securing a bailout from Washington, Opel is seeking help at home. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the German government will conduct a constructive review on the possibility of extending a state liquidity guarantee to Opel. But the chancellor said that the government needs to ensure that any funds from a state guarantee remain in Germany and don’t end up in the U.S.
SolarWorld said that if a deal goes through, Opel would continue to produce its current models, but would extend its offerings to include electric and hybrid vehicles. According to SolarWorld, Opel is already working on the development of electric and hybrid drive cars at its research center in Rüsselsheim.
And SolarWorld said it has its own experience to offer for the carmaker from the years it’s spent working on the development and testing of solar-powered vehicles. SolarWorld said some of those vehicles have participated in motor racing, although most cars that are completely solar-powered are extremely lightweight, tiny vehicles that bear little resemblance to anything that Opel produces.
GM’s largest subsidiary outside of North America, Opel got its start making sewing machines back in 1862 and has been producing cars since 1899. Its passenger cars include the Astra, Corsa and Vectra, with light commercial vehicles including the Combo and Movano.