General Motors Co said on Friday its board had not picked a winning bidder for Opel after convening to discuss the automaker's options, leaving the fate of its German unit still uncertain after months of high-stakes negotiations.
The GM board of directors met today to discuss options for Opel. No decision was taken, GM spokeswoman Karin Kirchner said in a statement.
Earlier on Friday, sources close to the matter said GM was leaning toward picking Canada's Magna International and its Russian partners as preferred buyers for Opel.
Germany's government, which faces elections next month, has offered its financial backing for the Magna bid because it believes it would be the best option to save jobs.
But Magna has faced a challenge from Brussels-based financial investor RHJ International , which GM's top negotiator has said presented an offer that would be easier for the automaker to back.
The alternative to a sale of Opel would be insolvency, analysts have said. Opel began making cars in 1899, and it has been a cornerstone of GM's international operations for the past 80 years.
The sale of Opel is being keenly watched as billions of euros in government aid is riding on the outcome as are the employment prospects of thousands of its workers in Europe.
A Magna victory would be a coup for its founder and chairman, Frank Stronach, who left Europe a poor toolmaker half a century ago and built his company into one of the world's biggest automotive suppliers.
It would mark a setback for Leonhard Fischer, the former investment banker and turnaround specialist who runs RHJ.
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In Germany Opel employs over 25,000 people in four major plants making everything from three-door Corsa subcompacts to Zafira vans. In the U.K. there are two key factories which produce automobiles under the Vauxhall badge, while Opel also has other facilities in Belgium, Poland and Spain.
Opel and its sister brand Vauxhall sold just over 560,000 cars in Europe in the first half of the year for a market share of 7.6 percent, according to data compiled by the ACEA auto industry association.
Opel's Astra compact competes with the Volkswagen Golf in the mass market. Its other best sellers include the small Corsa model and the mid-sized Insignia, which was voted European Car of the Year by automotive journalists.
Berlin and the German states that host Opel plants have made clear they want Magna to get the carmaker and are set to provide 4.5 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in state aid to make it happen.
Trustees overseeing a majority stake in Opel -- which Germany ring-fenced and propped up with state aid to avoid having it swept into GM's brief bankruptcy under U.S. government supervision -- have to approve any deal.
Magna's co-CEO Siegfried Wolf said last week the Canadian company and its Russian partner Sberbank SBER.RTS had reached an agreement in principle with GM over a contract to buy 55 percent of Opel, raising hopes of a deal.
But GM's top negotiator for the Opel deal, John Smith, has repeatedly cited the positive aspects of RHJ's offer, which he says would be easier to implement than Magna's plan.
RHJ has presented an industrial concept as convincing as Magna's while requiring less state aid, he has said.
The field of bidders narrowed to two when Italian carmaker Fiat and China's Beijing Automotive (BAIC) dropped out.
GM, which emerged from bankruptcy protection on July 10, this week agreed to sell its Saab car business to a tiny Swedish luxury carmaker, the first in a series of big sales the U.S. group is planning as it slims down.
(Reporting by Philipp Halstrick, Angelika Gruber, Gernot Heller and Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt, Soyoung Kim in Detroit; editing by Carol Bishopric)