The premier of Opel's home state of Hesse said on Friday that Canadian-Austrian group Magna's
Three groups, including Magna, Fiat and industrial holding company RHJ International submitted offers for Opel, a unit of struggling U.S. carmaker General Motors
Top German government officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hesse leader Roland Koch, are due to meet later on Friday in Berlin to discuss the bids.
I think there is a ranking in which the offer from Magna is closest to the hopes and wishes of many in the German political arena but also the workers, Koch told German radio before the meeting.
There is a very interesting bid from a financial investor with the group from Ripplewood, he said, referring to Belgian-listed RHJ International
And surely some are disappointed that the Fiat bid is very far from what some had hoped. It is a bid which requires new thinking if it is to be considered. There is a clear ranking.
Both General Motors and the German government are in a race against time to finalize a sale of Opel, which is headquartered in Ruesselsheim and has four plants that employ roughly 25,000 staff in Germany.
The U.S. government has given GM until June 1 to restructure its operations and prove it can be viable without state aid, or face probable bankruptcy.
The bidding process for Opel has also been colored by a politically-charged debate in Berlin ahead of a federal election in September.
Merkel's conservatives are keen to preserve Opel jobs but want to keep the state's role in any rescue limited. The rival Social Democrats (SPD) say the government should do all it can to save Opel and have sought to portray Merkel as insensitive to the fate of its workers.
FIAT PR CAMPAIGN
Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has led a formidable public relations campaign for his bid in recent weeks, racing around in a Maserati and his trademark sweater to meetings with top government officials.
He was quoted in an Italian newspaper on Thursday as saying Fiat's chances of getting Opel were better than 50 percent.
Marchionne wants to create the world's second biggest carmaker, after Japan's Toyota <7203.T>, by adding the assets of Opel and Vauxhall to a stable that includes Fiat's brands and those of U.S. carmaker Chrysler.
German media reports, however, said the Fiat plan would involve total job cuts of about 18,000, compared to about 10,000 each for Magna and RHJ. Fiat is also seeking some 7 billion euros in government support, about 2 billion more than Magna and RHJ require.
A failed cooperation agreement between GM and Fiat several years ago may color the U.S. company's views on the Italian carmaker. Koch said the Fiat concept would leave GM with only a minor role in the new entity.
The decision on who gets Opel will be taken by GM but the German government will also play a big role because it would likely have to supply billions of euros in financing guarantees to the eventual winner.
The Magna concept focuses heavily on new ideas, new markets and new clients, while the others focus more on rationalization, Koch said.
Not all jobs can be preserved in a new European Opel group, but there are concepts that offer a more interesting outlook for the German sites than others do. Magna is one that offers a more interesting outlook.
(Writing by Noah Barkin; editing by Will Waterman and Simon Jesssop)