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SolarWorld offers to buy Opel from GM for $1.3 billion

by Nick Aziz

Straight out of left field comes news of an offer from German solar energy company SolarWorld to acquire Opel from General Motors. The company has apparently made a formal offer to GM to the tune of $1.3 billon. "It's a serious offer," CEO Frank Asbeck told Reuters. "It's not a gag."

SolarWorld is one of the largest solar energy firms in Germany, employing 2,100 people. In 2006, the company made the surprise move of acquiring the solar activities of oil giant Shell. Asbeck said acquiring Opel would allow his company to develop a new generation of vehicles based on alternative energy technologies.

The offer to GM reportedly consists of $350 million in cash, $950 million in credit lines.

Asbeck said he wants to "free" Opel from GM. "I see a need to overhaul our manufacturing sector. Just like we have seen in the alternative energy area, the auto industry must be overhauled. That means we need to build cars of the future -- electric, hybrid engines, this can't be left to the Japanese," Frank Asbeck told Deutschlandfunk radio.

"This is already in the heads of the developers at Opel, but they must be freed from the restraints of General Motors," he added.

"This is nonsense," IHS Global Insight analyst Christophe Stuermer told the AFP. But Tim Urquhart, also an analyst with IHS Global Insight, had a different take, calling the move "highly ambitious and remarkable."

Asbeck told the U.K.'s Times his company is ready to take on an automaker. "The group has already been working for some years on the development and testing of electric drive vehicles that are propelled by solar energy and that even participate successfully in motor racing," he said.

So far, GM has downplayed the reports. GM Europe spokeswoman Karin Kirchner told the Associated Press that "Opel is not for sale." But with GM running out of cash and in desperate need of additional funds, anything seems possible. As always, stay tuned!