Figuerelas, Opel's struggling Spanish car factory, will begin assembling the new Meriva MPV in autumn 2009, helping boost its slumping output rates, workers' commite chief Jose Arceiz told

"We plan to produce the new and slicker model in October or November," he said, adding that the factory had feared it would lose the contract following GM's divestiture of Opel.

The new Meriva, which is "slightly bigger" than its predecessor, will help revive sales of the minivan, which have been suffering in the last year of the model's cycle. It will also help bolster production at Figuerelas which hopes to churn out up to 340,000 vehicles this year, down sharply from 2008 and from 485,000 units in 2007 when global sales were strong pre-recession, Arceiz said.

The factory employs 7,300 workers and is currently in rotating schedule to accommodate the company's needs to temporary idle 600 workers. An assembly line was recently shut, reducing output to 700 cars a day from 1,000.

Arceiz said the global recession had dented sales of the Corsa supermini, the factory's "star model", the Combo van and Meriva. However, he hopes things will improve amid signs of an economic recovery and recent Spanish government efforts to lifts anaemic car sales.

"Next year will probably be a bit slower but hopefully in 2011 we will be back to 485,000," he added.

Bowing to fierce industry pressure, Spain this month introduced the 'Plan2000E' aid package that gives drivers up to EUR2,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle under certain conditions. The scheme was welcomed by the car industry and is expected to help revive one of Europe's worst-performing car markets.

Ivan Castano