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Unlike the US, Germany unlikely to bail out automaker

Merkel, in visit to headquarters of GM's Opel unit, says that direct aid is unlikely.

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"All religions live together," says painter Hans Diebschlag, whose father worked for Opel and whose art adorns the walls of city hall and the Opel headquarters. "The factory is a great unifying factor."

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To accommodate its booming population, the town refurbished its pedestrian zone, widened its roads, and built schools, soccer fields, and a theater. Brightly colored skyscrapers sprouted on the outskirts of the old market square – the bright blue, orange, and red dots of the "Dicker Busch" housing project, which is home to 6,000 residents from 80 nationalities, most of whom are Turks and Moroccans.

"Every single person here is, in some way or another, connected with Opel," says Christel Goettert, a publisher who's lived here since the settlement's inception and created a women's center and a neighborhood association to help migrant women. "Now everybody's holding their breath, everybody's shaking."

"It can't be that the state gives out millions of euros for banks, and not one penny to save thousands of jobs here," says Ms. Goettert, referring to billions of euros in aid to banks such as Commerzbank and Hypo Real Estate.

Planners had anticipated Ruesselsheim would have 100,000 inhabitants by now. But after the boom of the late 1970s, Opel went downhill, just as parent General Motors did. From 50,000 employees, fewer than half remained in the early 2000s. The last cut happened four years ago when 4,000 people were laid off. Experts predict that there could be only 15,000 Opel workers left by 2015.

"The important thing is that help comes fast," says Mayor Stefan Gieltowski. "Opel is on its way to being more independent from its parent company, but at the same time, it is looking for capital. In those difficult moments, state guarantees, in the form of loan guarantees or other instruments, are crucial."

Blaming General Motors

GM bought Opel in 1929, when it was about to go bankrupt. Eighty years later, GM is about to go bankrupt with a net loss of $31 billion in 2008, despite billions of dollars of capital injection by the US government. Many here feel the American company is responsible for Opel's trouble.

Manfred Schmitt, a retired Opel engineer, says that putting Opel in the same category as most companies going bankrupt is wrong. "Opel is a unique case," he says. "It was drained into trouble because of its 100-percent entanglement with GM."

On Market Street, Hans Jansen, a local bookkeeper, puts part of the blame for Opel's troubles on GM's production of the "wrong" cars – ones that are too big and consume too much fuel, he says. "Environmental concerns haven't yet sunk in American mentalities," he says.

Mr. Diebschlag, the artist, agrees. "The Germans always prided themselves in development and technology, they always had the feeling that Opel was held back by traditional working methods," he says. "There was an urgency and pressure not felt for a major paradigm change. If Opel could go alone it wouldn't have to comply with American interests anymore."

Ms. Blazejewski, who has studied Opel extensively, says that, "Opel has suffered because there were so many restrictions on models and policies, and cars fulfill a different demand here." But, she says, Opel is too small to survive on its own.

"Opel will always need some partnership with the US, but maybe it will be a different type of partnership," she says. "A partnership with more acceptance of how the European market functions."

As he makes his way along the march's route Saturday, Mr. Pfeifer, the fourth-generation worker, sounded a note of optimism.

"It's a new chance when Opel no longer is a 100-percent daughter of GM," he said. "Opel couldn't do what is good for us. GM doesn't take into consideration the European market."