General Motors Corp. has emerged as the chief contender to sign a deal to produce cars in Poland's biggest automaking plant after outbidding Italian carmaker Fiat, the Polish government said.

Polish Industry Minister Andrzej Zawislak said the workers' council of the Warsaw Zeran plant, which employs 24,000 people, agreed to become a private company after several weeks of discussions."The move created the condition to speed up talks with the most serious partner," Zawislak said. Asked to name that partner, he said, "It's General Motors."

But GM spokesman Ronald Theis in Detroit said although there have been discussions with officials in Poland, "there is no agreement at this point and nothing is finalized yet."

If a deal is reached, Opel Vectra and Kadett cars could roll off the Zeran assembly lines. Part of the German Opel concern has been owned for years by GM.

The Zeran plant, the biggest in Poland, started producing passenger cars on a Soviet license in 1948. In 1967, it injected new techology into the Polish automaking industry to produce Fiats under license from the Italian automaker.

In 1974, Poland bought another license from Fiat to make a smaller Fiat in the southwestern city of Bielsko-Biala. Those cars are nicknamed "maluchs" or "toddlers" because of their size.

Production of the outdated Italian model ceased a month ago in the Zeran plant and the crew was forced to take a seven-week leave. The company had been holding negotiations with GM and Fiat after failing to reach agreement with Daihatsu of Japan two years ago.

Zawislak, who recently returned from a business trip in the United States, said he was pleased that two foreign competitors would remain in the Polish market.