Canada's Magna is still Germany's preferred bidder for carmaker Opel, a government spokesman said on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with General Motors representatives to discuss the takeover offers.
GM has received three bids for Opel -- one from a consortium of auto supplier Magna and Russia's Sberbank, one from private equity firm RHJ International, and a third from China's Beijing Automotive (BAIC) -- and now has to agree a choice with Germany, which is providing loan guarantees to the buyer.
While GM likes the offer from RHJ, a Belgium-based financial investor that aims to shrink production to return Opel to profit, the German government and the German states with Opel sites favor Magna.
On Friday we expressed a certain preference for Magna ... The view that I expressed here on Friday has been confirmed, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a news conference.
But he added that the government wanted to come to a joint position with GM in coming weeks, adding: In the end we will only be successful if we reach a joint solution.
The closing of the deal would extend into the autumn, Wilhelm said.
Several people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday that the states that are home to Opel factories also still prefer Magna's offer over the bid made by RHJ. The states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia discussed the matter on Wednesday, two sources said.
GM holds 35 percent of Opel shares, while the German government is being asked to provide loan guarantees worth up to 4.5 billion euros ($6.4 billion).
If they disagree, the end game will play out in the Opel Trust, which has been responsible for Opel since GM entered bankruptcy in June. The trust holds 65 percent of Opel shares and has to approve of any investor.
The Trust's board is comprised of two GM representatives and two for Germany, one for Berlin and a delegate for the four federal states in which Opel has a plant. There is a fifth neutral board member -- Fred Irwin, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany -- but he has no vote. He may, however, be forced to try to actively broker a deal.
Magna wants to expand Opel's full-scale car assembly business and forecasts high growth rates, particularly in Russia, home of consortium partner Sberbank.
RHJ envisages shrinking Opel's production footprint and returning the company to profitability.
A German government source said on Tuesday that Wednesday's meeting would not yield a decision on which bidder will succeed in taking a stake in Opel, and that it was unlikely a preliminary decision would be made on Opel's future this week.
Separately, representatives of Magna are scheduled to meet the heads of the European Opel dealers' association to discuss their involvement in the sales and distribution structure.
The association originally planned to collect a half a billion euros from its 4,000 dealers to buy a stake of between 10 and 20 percent and a seat on the board, but its offer has largely been ignored despite the sizeable equity investment.
(Writing by Paul Carrel, editing by Will Waterman)