Last November, General Motors was burning cash on a fast-track to failure and desperate to cut any deal to save itself and its German unit Opel.
But fast forward nine months, and time suddenly is on GM's side.
With its own bankruptcy completed and growing confidence that the worst of the credit crisis and auto sales slump have passed, GM's new board can afford a cooler approach to Opel, analysts say.
That includes sending GM management back as it did this week to draw up alternatives that would allow the automaker to buy back control of Opel and GM's British affiliate Vauxhall, an option not even considered before.
Just a few months ago, GM was not in a position to retain Opel, said Dennis Virag, president of the Automotive Consulting Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were fighting on life support. Now the patient has recovered.
Analysts say GM's new lease on life has allowed its board to ask questions that had threatened to get lost in the highly charged negotiations over Opel involving the German government and its favored bidder Magna International (MGa.TO).
Does GM need control of Opel with its engineering to take on global competitors? If so, what are the options that could allow the automaker to raise the $4 billion or so it would need to buy it back?
Is GM going to be a global company? I think this is the issue that the new GM board is asking GM to come back and look at, said auto consultant Larry Denton of Denton Consulting. Is this a strategic part of the puzzle that we need?
One consideration is Opel's Russelsheim operations in Germany have been the center for developing vehicles that are crucial to GM's vehicle line-up and its effort to deliver better sales of more fuel-efficient cars.
The Chevrolet Malibu and the Buick LaCrosse mid-size sedans are both built on Opel platforms. That is also the plan for the upcoming Chevy Cruze compact sedan, which represents GM's bet it can make a small car profitably in the United States.
The Opel Insignia model is also being rebranded as the Buick Regal for the United States and China markets.
GM Vice Chairman and marketing chief Bob Lutz said the Regal sedan is the flagship for an attempt to win over Buick avoiders who have abandoned the brand in the United States.
COULD GM PAY THE PRICE?
Analysts see several ways GM could raise the $4 billion.
One option would see GM sell or borrow against its assets in China. Another possibility would be for the company to bring in private investors with possible credit support from government sources.
GM came out of bankruptcy in July with $20 billion in cash from the U.S. government and $11 billion of debt.
The Obama administration has said it will not underwrite GM's overseas operations, but with the automaker out of bankruptcy the distinction could be harder to draw and less important, one auto consultant said.
I think the last year has shown that the government can be very creative when it wants to be in how it structures these deals, said the adviser who asked not to be named.
If nothing else, the Opel episode has shown the independent mettle of GM's newly appointed board.
When the U.S. Treasury took a majority stake in GM in exchange for funding its restructuring in bankruptcy, it also shook up its board.
Seven of the 13 GM directors are new, including its chairman, former telecommunications executive Ed Whitacre.
Critics panned GM's former board for not exerting tougher scrutiny during ex-GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner's reign.
While GM has signaled that it would still prefer to find a buyer for Opel, the board has also asked for more information about funding available for a rival bid by Belgium-based RHJ International (RHJI.BR) and other aspects of the Magna bid.
A senior Obama administration official said on Tuesday that the government had been satisfied with the conduct of the GM board and would leave the decision on Opel to it.
There really wasn't a view articulated (on Opel). It was one of several challenges that GM faced, said the U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about GM. In its restructuring, there really wasn't a particular view on a specific path.
Berlin and the German states that host Opel plants have made clear they want Magna to get Opel and are set to provide 4.5 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in aid to make it happen.
Germany has already provided 1.5 billion euros in bridge financing for Opel. A German trust overseeing a majority stake in Opel have to approve any deal after it clears the GM board.
(Additional reporting by John Crawley in Washington, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)