Unlike staff at the English Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, whose recent win of the next generation Astra guarantees work until the early 2020s, workers at GM’s Bochum plant in Germany were on Monday (21 May) told no decision had been made on their plant’s future beyond 2014. The plant builds the Zafira and Zafira Tourer.

GM Europe is moving production of the next Astra, its best-selling model, from Russelsheim, Germany, to just two plants in England and Gliwice, Poland, which build the current model, so they can more efficiently operate on three shifts. Plans announced last week did not mention Bochum.

Opel actually has two plants in Bochum – Bochum-Laer’s plant one presses panels and assembles cars, plant two, in in Langendreer several kilometres to the east, makes gearboxes. A parts distribution centre joint venture with Cat Logistics is also in Langendreer.

Opel chief executive Karl-Friedrich Stracke told workers in Bochum plant one on Monday that no decision had been made on their plant’s future beyond 2014. State premier Hannelore Kraft who led the Social Democrats to victory in an election this month, had earlier called on him to make a clear statement on his plans, Reuters reported.

A decision to close the Bochum plant would be one of the most dramatic so far as Europe’s carmakers look to restructure in response to more than four years of declines in demand and profits. Opened in 1962, it employs around 3,100 people and has a production capacity of around 160,000 cars a year.

There is concern that Opel will fill the gap left by the Astra in Ruesselsheim by shifting Zafira production there from Bochum, effectively leaving the plant in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia with slim chances of survival.

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“Demand for Opel vehicles across Europe plunged 16% in the first three months of the year. That’s why GM will reduce capacities,” Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told Reuters. “I expect the Bochum factory to be shut down after 2014.”

Labour leaders have criticised Opel’s move to pull Astra production from Germany, saying it breaches promises management made to workers two years ago.

They have also said they fear that production of the Zafira minivan will be moved from Bochum to Ruesselsheim. Bochum stopped making Astras in 2009 and currently builds the previous and new (Zafira Tourer) generations but production of the older model is expected to end some time this year.

GM lost US$747m on its European operations last year and rumours regularly surface that the US carmaker may eventually throw in the towel and resume efforts to sell Opel, Reuters noted.

A previous move for a sale three years ago caused a public outcry in Germany as thousands of jobs were seen to be at risk.

Stracke said he would present a plan for the German carmaker’s Europe-wide business to Opel’s supervisory board on 28 June, denying any decision had already been made to close one factory in Germany.

He told an assembly of workers at the factory in Bochum that he planned to stick with a labour agreement valid through 2014 but had not made any decision yet on what would happen after that.

Earlier, a German labour representative at Opel told a magazine he would present evidence at an assembly on Monday that the company has been secretly preparing what would amount to the closure its Bochum plant.

The plant’s works council head, Rainer Einenkel, told weekly WirtschaftsWoche that Opel’s management has for months been preparing to shift production of the Zafira away from Bochum.

Without the Zafira, the Bochum plant – located in Germany’s rust-belt Ruhr region devastated by coal mine closures – is widely seen as having slim chances of survival.

Bochum is one of four German Opel plants.

“We have gathered additional evidence of preparations for production of the Zafira in Ruesselsheim and we will confront Stracke with these on Monday,” Einenkel was quoted as saying by WirtschaftsWoche in an excerpt of an article published on Monday.

An Opel spokesman told Reuters that CEO Stracke strongly denied that such preparations had been made.

German state of North-Rhine Westphalia economy minister Harry Voigtsberger and state premier Hannelore Kraft also took part in the workers assembly on Monday.