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Peugeot's Opel deal shows shrewd engineering

7 Mars 2017 - Reuters

Tavares (centre) shakes hands with Mary Barra and Karl-Thomas Neumann, CEO Adam Opel AG

PSA Group’s 1.8 billion euro acquisition of General Motors’ European operations sets both companies on a path to swift value creation.

The French carmaker is paying a price so low it can soon expect a decent return. GM has taken out a sort of insurance against appearing to have sold out cheaply.

Opel and Vauxhall, the brands that PSA will now pick up, have been loss-making for 16 years in a row. There was a fairly straightforward reason: with market share of less than 7 percent, GM Europe was too small to be run efficiently. The American parent blocked Opel from selling outside of Europe, fearing competition for its other brands.

As a member of PSA Group, Opel will become part of Europe's second-largest carmaker with a market share of around 17 percent. PSA is free to sell future Opel models everywhere in the world. As a larger company, Peugeot will be able to negotiate better deals with suppliers and spread research and development costs over a larger number of vehicles. Peugeot boss Carlos Tavares expects to lift Opel's operating margin from less than zero to 2 percent by 2020.

True, Peugeot's recovery since 2014 has been better than that. Nonetheless, a 2 percent operating margin would be enough to make the deal financially viable for the French. Say the total acquisition price, factoring in perhaps 1 billion euros of integration costs by 2020, is 2.8 billion. Even if Opel's revenue of 17.7 billion euros doesn't grow at all, taxing the resulting 350 million euros of operating profit at 26 percent suggests a return on investment of around 9.4 percent - a whisker away from Peugeot's stated cost of capital. Sales growth, still-better margins, or any profit generated by the financial services division in which PSA is buying a 50 percent stake, would be a bonus.

GM boss Mary Barra, meanwhile, has made sure she can't be accused of handing the keys over too easily. More than a third of Peugeot's layout - 650 million euros - will be paid in warrants equivalent to 4.2 percent of the French carmaker's share capital. That also gives Tavares some leeway in case Opel proves less roadworthy than he hopes.

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