Senior union sources in Belgium claim Opel is attempting to play its German plants off against each other although the automaker insists both labour and management agree on the need to improve income.

Opel's supervisory board met today (28 March) in Russelsheim but hardly doused the flames of speculation surrounding its troubled European operation, noting all parties had "to take action to increase revenue and reduce costs." 

Mounting rumours refuse to dissipate that Opel parent General Motors will shortly announce at least one site closure in Europe.

The spotlight has fallen on Bochum and Russelsheim in Germany as well as Ellesmere Port in the UK,, with senior politicians from both countries making impassioned pleas for the factories' survival.

"They [General Motors] want to play Russelsheim against Bochum - they want to divide IF Metall," the senior union source told just-auto in Brussels today.

GM's European division has posted chronic losses for the past few years, while suffering from overcapacity, but the unions are taking aim squarely at the Detroit management which it says is engaged in a "race to the bottom" for its Opel division.

"You create your own over-capacity," said the source. "I predicted already two to three years ago that as long as Opel was under the umbrella of GM, there was no future for Opel. It is a race to the bottom.

"Opel is forbidden from going into growing markets - it is the Americans who are killing Opel - all the best models were outsourced. What do they do? They push Chevrolet - why not produce Chevrolet in Europe? The European management is almost American management."

The source added GM had "nothing to offer" to Opel, insisting the US manufacturer had previously blamed trade unions from going to the media too readily to protest their cause.

Instead of importing product from outside Europe, the source maintained Opel should manufacture brands on the Continent instead.

"We have the costs and didn't have the benefits because sales are going outside Europe," he said. "It makes sense, instead of closing factories, that you try to bring in products which are Chevrolet products. Why not? Closing plants costs a lot of money."

A statement from Opel noted today: "As mentioned earlier, all parties around the table agree Opel/Vauxhall needs to return to profitability and to take action to increase revenues, improve margins and reduce costs.

An Opel spokesman in Germany told just-auto it was "important to notice this [is] a joint statement between the unions and the equity side."