Barely is the ink dry on preliminary workers’ agreements to give Opel/Vauxhall the cost savings it needs for restructuring, then there is disturbing news today that one of the company’s UK plants may lose its van building contract after the current model gets to the end of its life in 2013.
The Reuters news agency, citing a French industry ministry spokesman, said Renault would produce the new version of its Trafic van at its Sandouville factory in France after calls from politicians for the company to protect local jobs. The Trafic is currently built at Vauxhall’s Luton plant in England, in a joint venture with Opel/Vauxhall, and by alliance partner Nissan in Barcelona, Spain.
This is not good news for yet another UK vehicle plant. Opel/Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port Astra plant will move to three shifts in the first half of 2011 and will become sole source of the Sports Tourer (estate car) to be introduced alongside the current five-door hatchback and AstraVan. Subject to maintaining its competitive position in the Opel/Vauxhall manufacturing group, it will also produce the next (seventh) generation Astra.
But no such guarantees exist for Luton which has assured work only till 2013. The last bulletin on 21 May said talks continue “in a positive vein” with Renault on the opportunity for joint development and production of the next generation Vivaro van with Vauxhall saying it was “optimistic” that talks about a new generation Vivaro will be successful.
The report today suggested otherwise. So we talked to Renault ourselves and got nothing to reassure anyone at Luton. The company confirmed it would produce a new commercial vehicle at Sandouville but was coy about model details, saying only it would enter production from 2013.
“Renault has confirmed Sandouville will begin producing a commercial vehicle but we have not yet confirmed [it will be] the Trafic,” a spokeswoman said.
“Production will begin in 2013 – we are not saying the name of the vehicle yet. Renault-Nissan are in discussions but no decision has been made.”
Renault also declined to say if the move would see production of the Trafic transfer permanently to France.
Also clouding the future is Renault and Nissan’s recent moves on CVs. The alliance has recently agreed ties with Daimler which will see it supplying diesel engines and transmissions for the Mercedes Vito and Renault building an entry-level Mercedes van in France. That could be something Kangoo-sized or it could be a Trafic spin-off; Mercedes’ current Vito is at the large, premium end of the sector. And Nissan has indicated a desire to go it alone on CVs, starting with the recently launched NV200 in Japan and Europe and the NV1500-3500 series for North America.
Add to that earlier statements from Renault that it would build more CVs at Sandouville, and that the next Trafic would share its platform with the Espace MPV that is already built there, and Luton’s post-2013 future is looking darker by the day.