General Motors Europe (GME) has opened a US$300m, flexible assembly plant in St. Petersburg, Russia. The plant  has added 70,000 units of capacity to more than 100,000 already available to GM at joint venture and partner facilities in the country.

It will build the GM Daewoo-designed Opel Antara and Chevrolet Captiva SUVs and, from late next year, the new Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan, also a GM-DAT product. The flexible plant can accommodate a variety of different models.

“We are fully committed to our Russia growth strategy,” said GME president Carl-Peter Forster. “Russia is poised to become Europe’s number one car market for GM as early as 2009. With five strong brands on the market, we are the leading non-Russian manufacturer. That’s a position we aim to keep.”

GM grew sales in Russia by 44% in Jan-Sept 2008, outpacing industry growth of 23% and reaching a record total of 256,765. Market share had reached a new high of 10.9% in Russia from 6.5% as recently as 2006. In the first nine months of the year, Chevrolet maintained its position as Russia’s favourite non-domestic brand with sales up 33.5% (or 44,000 cars and SUVs) to a total of 175,800. In the same period, Opel was the fastest growing brand in the country with sales up 73% to over 78,000.

The new plant, located in Shushary on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, will employ 1700 people. GM’s new employees have undergone intensive training in the company’s global manufacturing system which focuses on top quality in all processes, continuous improvement and involvement of the workforce, the automaker said.

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