Interesting that the ‘serious’ newspapers — the FT and Sunday Times — have run a version of our Vauxhall/Opel sell-off story from last week’s mag.
For those that didn’t see it, Vauxhall/Opel’s buyer is now most likely to be a company called RHJ International, a Belgian holding company with very strong links to US buyout firm Ripplewood.
These reports are significant, because this week is meant to mark the final, final deadline for the Vauxhall/Opel sell-off. Although my experience of reporting similar stories in recent years suggests we treat the word ‘final’ with some scepticism.
The Canadian/Russian bid from Magna/Sberbank has fallen out of favour for various reason, not the least of which is that GM fancies buying back Vauxhall/Opel in a few years time.
I’m told that a buy-back clause for GM to take back control of Vauxhall/Opel is a key part of the sell-off documentation and the Russians/Magna aren’t too keen on it.
Apparently GM’s high-ups in Detroit have also found it much easier to negotiate with RHJ than the Russians, largely because RHJ is run by Americans, namely the financier Tim Collins, who also founded the Ripplewood buyout fund.The German Unions are said to favour RHJ, too.
A couple of years ago, Ripplewood was one of the bidders for Jaguar Land Rover and enlisted former Ford CEO Nick Scheele to guide its ultimately unsuccessful bid. Former Chrysler exec Tom Stallkamp is also an advisor to Ripplewood, so there’s potentially heavyweight automotive advice on hand.
RHJ also has an automotive bias to its investment holdings. It has a 37 per cent share of Japanese casting company Asahi Tec, which also incorporates US metal-basher Metaldyne. Asahi Tec actually derives the bulk of its revenue from US car-makers (43 per cent).
Plus it owns Japanese widget maker U-shin, a supplier of automotive door locks, and Belgian aluminium and magnesium castings company HIT.
Not so automotive related are a Japanese holiday company Phoenix Resport, which used to own the world’s biggest swimming pool, and Columbia Music Entertainment. Columbia was a Ripplewood Investment, but transferred to RHJ.
What we don’t know exactly is what plans RHJ has for Vauxhall/Opel, although my guess is that it will go along with whatever GM, now rumoured to be eyeing a 45 per cent in its spun-off European business, wants.
Think of RHJ as temporary investors in Vauxhall/Opel. Ferrari did something similar a few years ago.
RHJ’s investment gives GM a handy capital boost and when times get better in a couple of years, GM invokes the buy-back clause. Then RHJ walks away with a handsome profit and GM gets its European businesses back. Nice deal.