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September 11, 2009

OPEL AFTERMATH: Factory, worker, futures unclear

Yesterday's announcement that a Magna International-led consortium would buy a 55% stake in General Motors' European Opel/Vauxhall operations finally ended speculation about who would win the bidding round but employees were hardly put at rest as the matter of where Magna's expected 10,000-worker jobs axe will fall remains uncertain.

Yesterday’s announcement that a Magna International-led consortium would buy a 55% stake in General Motors’ European Opel/Vauxhall operations finally ended speculation about who would win the bidding round but employees were hardly put at rest as the matter of where Magna’s expected 10,000-worker jobs axe will fall remains uncertain.

GM vice-president and lead Opel sale negotiator John Smith said on Thursday in Berlin Magna was “contemplating” winding down the Astra plant at Antwerp, Belgium, and shifting some production from Zaragoza, Spain [primarily Corsas] to Germany.

There are around 4,700 GM workers here in the UK, 7,000 in Spain, 5,500 in Belgium, 1,800 in Italy, 1,600 in Austria and 1,500 in France, according to a GM website.

UK Vauxhall workers leaving the Ellesmere Port Astra plant complained to local media there had been no official announcement there while some felt the Magna deal did not secure the plant’s long-term future, despite the recent hard-won deal to build the next Astra launching at the Frankfurt show next week.

The Luton van plant currently only has work until 2013.

Vauxhall’s not commenting for now but UK business secretary Peter Mandelson has said talks with Magna will continue and the government stands ready to inject funds though analysts said there was no chance of the UK matching the loan guarantees expected to come from Germany with its four Opel plants.

Unions in Belgium told news agency AFP they hoped a decision to close Antwerp had not yet been taken, and the head of the Flemish government called on the European Commission to probe conditions attached to Germany’s state aid.

“The winner today could be the loser tomorrow,” Metzler Bank analyst Juergen Pieper told AFP. “Everyone knows there is enormous over capacity in the market … and Opel is by far the weakest player in Europe today.”

“Magna cannot be a big help in industrial terms. They haven’t constructed any cars of their own, they don’t have volume, they don’t have anything to combine Opel’s products with, they cannot deliver special expertise.”

The deal is not done and dusted either, with what GM called “several key issues” still to be dealt with in the coming weeks, leading some commentators to speculate that it may yet unravel.

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