GMs Bochum plant has built its last car, Genk is about to, workers at both, like many before them, face an uncertain future

GM's Bochum plant has built its last car, Genk is about to, workers at both, like many before them, face an uncertain future

Less than two weeks to Christmas - where did 2014 go? For most, it's a time of celebration, presents, family reunion and far too much food. For many households in Genk, Belgium, and Bochum, Germany, 2015 will be looking a bit bleak.

Bochum, General Motors Europe's doomed Opel plant, built its last car this week - a Zafira minivan. Genk, axed by Ford, is heading into its final week of production. If you're an executive suit at headquarters in Detroit, such decisions make good sense. There is too much production capacity in Europe, built for a peak market that doesn't look like coming back any time soon. Or at all. Your European unit is haemorrhaging money and you need to cut costs. So you axe a plant, consolidate production elsewhere and improve efficiency. Launching the redesigned Mondeo, now built in Spain, to media, you acknowledge the factory situation, reiterate your case for Genk closure. And it all makes sense. But the inevitable human toll can't be avoided.

When MG Rover went belly up in April 2005, 6,500 direct jobs went with it. Plus many in the supply chain. A few little factories in my small town were lower tier suppliers, making widgets for a bigger supplier to incorporate and ship. They closed. One of the buildings is still vacant. Several years on, a Birmingham paper did a 'where are they now?' article and found around 70% of former MGR workers had found new jobs, but mostly at less pay. The rest, especially the older people, well, it was involuntary early retirement and tighten the belt. It'll be much the same in Genk soon. A deal to secure a few hundred jobs making stampings seems to have fallen through and there's no other big employer to mop up the surplus. It was the same in Antwerp when GM closed that plant, and in Flint, Tarrytown, South Gate, etc, and it'll be the same in Bochum though, at least, a few hundred remain employed making components and warehousing.

A decade on, the MG Rover site is not entirely dead, unlike Genk may soon be. While some of the acreage is now home to a hotel, supermarket, youth recreation centre and houses, there is still a small final assembly plant slotting mechanicals into MGs shipped almost complete from China. The real new jobs are alongside in a thriving R&D centre where SAIC designs cars for global sale. But a skilled line worker, nearing retirement, who's spent a life building cars does not have much chance of a job in places like that. Those openings are for the younger up and comers with engineering degrees. Sad.

Better news, then, from GM for Mexico, announced last night. On top of $1.4bn already shaken from the piggy bank over the last couple of years, the automaker said it would spend an additional US$3.6bn out to 2018, primarily to modernise and expand factories in Toluca, Ramos Arizpe, Silao and San Luis Potosi. That will create up to 5,600 direct new jobs and allow the creation of a claimed "nearly 40,000 additional places in related industries". Right place, right time. Gain efficiency by moving work from expensive old plants to countries with lower-cost labour.

Down in Brazil, where JLR's new assembly plant is going up, and Discovery Sport production is already inked in, the automaker is considering a second model, we learned this week. Editor Dave Leggett sat down for a chat with new(ish) Vauxhall chief Tim Tozer and we welcomed our first article - on Fiat-Chrysler - from new contributor and Fleet Street stalwart Ray Hutton. And contributor Chris Wright headed to Frankfurt to bring us new product plans from Hyundai Motor Europe.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com

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