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COMMENT: Any port in a storm for Antwerp?

By Simon Warburton | 9 December 2010

Round and round, the Opel Antwerp saga continues on its tortuous path.

The GM-owned site is on the verge of shutting its doors for good, with the manufacturer having seemingly dismissed previous attempts to mount a bid, insisting various business models were not robust enough.

Having already shed a considerable number of jobs, a further 1,250 workers are set to be shown the door as the year closes, with Opel maintaining the move is necessary to put it back on a more secure European financial footing.

But despite saying to just-auto yesterday (9 December) there was "no investor for the time being, nothing to announce" Opel noted it was an "on-going process at Antwerp to look for a buyer."

Belgium at least had some cheer recently with the announcement Ford had inked a deal with unions to secure the future of its Genk assembly plant and Lommel proving ground facilities, but the country has been unable to persuade GM to retain Antwerp.

The Belgian port city has been awash with rumours for the past year concerning the identity of any purchasers, with the smart money coming up time and time again for a Chinese buyer.

Opel has appeared to bat back however, any such approaches, preferring to maintain a silence when it comes to potential investors.

But as union sources have pointed out to just-auto, the automaker will surely want to recoup at least something from its Antwerp site.

Well, to that end, two possibilities are lurking in the background. The mysterious Chinese investor refuses to go away, while the Antwerp Port Authority is licking its lips at the possibility of acquiring some extremely scarce land space.

The Authority will make a bid but is being frustrated by the need to have a final date from GM as to when it could acquire the site.

"Yes, we are making a bid [but] there is no timetable as the closing of the plant is not finalised yet," a Port Authority spokeswoman told just-auto.

"The situation of GM within the Port is an extraordinary [one] meaning the Antwerp Port Authority is the owner of 90% of the land."

The Authority insists that should it take over the site, it would definitely continue industrial activities as land is so difficult to come by at the Port.

That might be one glimmer of hope for Opel's workforce as it grimly counts down the time left until its Astra-producing factory closes.

Some 1,250 skilled workers used to producing high-quality cars are presumably ready and able to go should a further investor be found through the auspices of the Antwerp Port Authority perhaps.

But if the Chinese investor is indeed an automaker - as previous rumours have insisted - would GM willingly hand over the keys to a potential rival - with all the inbuilt facilities and maritime access that Antwerp enjoys?