Well, at least one outstanding General Motors matter in Europe got finally sorted out this week although that would have come as no comfort to the 2,300 or so workers at the Antwerp plant in Belgium who finally confirmed for sure yesterday their services will soon no longer be required after the usual 'consultations' between automaker, unions and works councils end and they find themselves looking down the barrel of unemployment. Who'd be jobless in this economy, this market?

I have no doubt this statement attributed to Opel CEO Nick Reilly was sincere: “We fully understand the effect this announcement has on the Antwerp employees and their families and we sympathise with them,” he said. “Many have been dedicated to the plant over generations and have done an excellent job producing great quality cars. The decision to announce this today, was not taken lightly; instead, it is the unfortunate result of the current business reality. We must make this announcement now so that we can secure a viable future for the entire Opel and Vauxhall operations.”

Reilly's hands are tied. After the GM board in the US sawed down the 'For Sale' sign a while back the experienced GM hand was assigned The German Patient and told: "Make it work". Or else.

There was little spin in Thursday's announcement nor the well-attended Brussels media conference that followed it. Reilly was frank: "The global economic crisis has led to a major downturn in the automotive industry. The western European car market in 2010 is expected to be 1.5m vehicles below 2009 levels and almost 4m below its peak in 2007.

"It is not expected to return anytime soon – if ever – to these peak levels, resulting in significant overcapacity in general and at Opel in particular. To ensure long-term sustainability for the company, Opel needs to reduce capacity by approximately 20%."

"In view of current capacity utilisation at all European Opel and Vauxhall plants, planned future product portfolio, timing requirements and financial impact, winding down the Antwerp plant would be the most logical approach for the company. If confirmed, production would conclude in the next few months."

And, it would seem, most industry watchers agree - at least one plant had to go and Antwerp was it. And the workers, whose factory's demise had been much rumoured, cannot say they weren't warned.

Other GM plants, and not just here in Europe, stand to benefit. Having already made some concessions, as we reported last year, the UK plants look like remaining going concerns for a while yet and, with factories in places including Germany, Spain and Poland to also keep busy, Reilly has made plans.

With the Geneva show coming up, automakers are previewing their debut stars including, this week, the first 'official' pix of BMW's Countryman, the first five-door Mini and also the first of the BMW generation to be offered with four-wheel drive.

Countryman revives an old British Leyland name for 'estate car or 'station wagon' versions of numerous models; original Mini creator Alec Issigonis, never short of ideas, once created the Twini - a Mini with a powertrain at both ends (the engine was under the rear seat) and various mechanics and body repairers with far too much time on their hands have, over the years, rolled out DIY '4WD' Minis, usually by welding two front halves together...

Finally, if you're interested in the South American market, you'll probably want to read this. Things might be a bit tough in Europe and the US but it ain't all bad out there in the global village.

Have a nice weekend,

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor