By Erik Kirschbaum
FREIBERG, Germany (Reuters) - SOLARWORLD (SWV.XE)is still "seriously interested" in acquiring the German unit of General Motors, Adam Opel, and has received favorable reactions from inside the firm in Germany, SolarWorld's chief executive said.
Frank Asbeck told a small group of journalists during a tour of the fast-growing SolarWorld plant in the eastern town of Freiberg on Thursday Opel is the "gem" in GM and his 1 billion euro ($1.3 billion) offer was still valid despite being snubbed.
"We want it, our offer is still pending," Asbeck said. "The mental trauma (at GM) is evidently still too great for now."
Asbeck said he had since been informally approached by Opel managers, union leaders and officials from the works council.
"I've been contacted from people inside the management, the union and works council and they all said in essence 'hey, that was a super offer and we'd like to get back to you'."
Asbeck shocked markets on November 19 when he announced plans to bid for the Opel, vowing to turn the automaker into Europe's first "green" car company. But GM, itself seeking a multibillion dollar bailout from the U.S. government, was dismissive.
SolarWorld said the offer was conditional on a complete separation of Opel from its parent company and on state guarantees from the German government.
A spokeswoman for GM Europe said Opel was not for sale.
SEES 10-FOLD INCREASE IN BUSINESS
SolarWorld's move came after Opel announced it was seeking 1 billion euros in aid from the German government because its financial situation was threatened by its U.S. parent's woes.
"We want to stir some new thinking in the automobile industry," said Asbeck, who repeatedly praised Opel's research and development center in Russelsheim for its work on the Volt, hybrids and extended range vehicles.
"At some point there will only be sun-motive vehicles. At some point there will only be renewables as an energy source. It's open to debate if that day is 30 or 40 or 50 years away. But fossil fuels will be gone in the foreseeable future.
"And that's why we made the offer for Opel. They've got 6,000 engineers who are more or less 'captive' in Russelsheim. They've got great concepts that aren't being implemented.
"We know what we want. We want to steer Opel in the right direction -- away from fossil fuels," he said. Asbeck said that if he controlled Opel he would move the carmaker away from fossil fuels into renewables in annual 5-percent steps.
"We can envision that happening and got strong support from many of those involved on the inside. It wasn't a 'gag offer' by any means. Opel can still be saved. And it can still be saved in three months. But at some point it can't be saved anymore."
SolarWorld's had plunged 19 percent to 13.25 euros on November 19. Asbeck said he would invest 250 millions in cash and had backing from a "large German bank" for 750 million euros.
Asbeck, a major SolarWorld shareholder himself, said he wasn't worried about the share price plunge. Analysts had taken a skeptical view of his Opel bid. Asbeck said he believed it was primarily institutional investors who sold their holdings.
"There are quite simply some people without a vision for the future and they sold their shares to allow others with more courage and vision buy the shares at a lower price," he said.
As far as SolarWorld's core business is concerned, Asbeck said he was extremely optimistic about the future and the firm was not being hurt at all by the global financial crisis.
"We're not feeling any recession at all," he said.
He said he expects photovoltaic business to surge when grid- parity is reached in the next few years and is extremely bullish about fast-growing U.S. business, where President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to invest in renewables.
"Once there is grid parity, once the price for solar power is the same as the power (from the utilities) you get from the socket in the wall, the demand for photovoltaic will be unlimited," he said.
He said he expected a 10-fold growth in the next 10 years.