Parts-making giant Magna International Inc. saw a loss in the year’s first quarter due to the global auto industry’s severe downturn, officials say today, while refusing to elaborate on the company’s interest in a minority stake in Adam Opel GmbH, General Motors Corp.’s struggling German unit.

“As everyone knows, something is going to happen to Opel, or that portion of GM Europe,” says Don Walker, co-CEO at Magna, an Aurora, ON, Canada-based company. “There are a lot of parties interested in what the outcome is going to be, so we’re engaging in discussion. And if we come up with some sort of win-win-win, we’ll pursue it.”

Magna co-CEO Siegfried Wolf says during a conference call today with journalists and analysts that he sees potential opportunity for “platform and module sharing” in a reconstituted Opel.

Fiat Auto Group has said it wants to take over Opel, with the backing of billions of euros in loan guarantees from European Union. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne presented his plan to German government officials on Tuesday, a day after Magna confirmed its interest.

A partner of Magna, Russian auto maker GAZ Group, also enters the mix. The German newspaper Handelsblatt says GAZ would not put up any cash, but rather provide manufacturing capacity and lend its extensive dealer network to the potential new venture. However, debt-laden GAZ reportedly has denied such media reports.

Preserving Opel would stem a potential business loss for Magna, now smarting from the global recession. The company says it swung to a loss of $200 million in the year’s first quarter, or $1.79 per share, from year-ago’s $207 million profit, or $1.78 per share.

Revenue plunged to $3.57 billion, from $6.62 billion in like-2008, primarily due to its North American customers’ weak production volumes, and the supplier says it is expecting more sluggishness in the year.

U.S. new-vehicle sales through April were down 37.3%, according to Ward’s data, while first-quarter North American production plunged 50%. Second-quarter output is expected at 54.1% of last year’s already weak output, a Ward’s forecast shows.

In a statement accompanying its results, Magna would not project potential losses from the bankruptcy at Chrysler LLC, or the affect a Chapter 11 proceeding at GM might have on its future financial results.

However, Chrysler and GM are the parts supplier’s two biggest customers, so “their respective restructurings could have a material negative impact on our financial position and operations,” Magna says.

The company expects the economic downturn to continue to pressure its cash flow, and it therefore has decided to suspend its quarterly dividend. The supplier also has shrunk its workforce significantly, curbed bonuses and instituted other actions such as a shorter work week. It also plans benefit reductions.

Taken together, Magna says the actions will results in savings through the rest of the year in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

At the same time, the company says smaller industry players will feel the impact more profoundly, which could open opportunities for acquisitions in the supplier sector and potential business takeovers by competitors.

Magna also expresses confidence in its liquidity position given the continued weak demand for new vehicles globally.

jamend@wardsauto.com