COMMENT: Antwerp winding down

By Simon Warburton | 14 December 2010

Opel looks to be determined to wind down its Antwerp Astra-producing site with the loss of 1,250 jobs.

Unions previously noted Chinese investors were willing to acquire the Belgian sitebut added Opel had said there was no business case.

just-auto spoke to a representative from a Chinese state-owned holding company today (14 December) who said it had made a bid for the factory, but Opel declined to confirm its identity. "We never disclose possible investors," a spokesman said.

"What we said is the plant will be closed at the end of the year - this is the present status."

Antwerp appears to be heading towards a sale - indeed Maynards is handling the industrial liquidation of Opel's press and paint shop, but who exactly is that mystery Chinese investor?

The Chinese spokesman just-auto spoke to today was not willing to reveal its identity due to a non-disclosure agreement with GM, but did confirm it was still looking for assembly facilities despite not being successful with Opel.

A consultant for the Flemish Centre for Automotive Research said the Chinese investor had contacts with Flanders politicians and indeed organised a visit with the Belgian unions, who not surprisingly have been one of the most vocal critics of the Antwerp sale.

"It is a very strange story," the consultant told just-auto today, adding the Flemish government "has given up", leaving just the unions to fight for the plant. "It is final - there is no way there will be cars produced at that plant. GM was not interested in selling the plant to the Chinese producing cars in their own back yard."

Speculation has hinted the Chinese investors could have had EUR600m (US$803m) to invest, but no details are forthcoming if that figure can be verified and if so, for what period.

The mystery investor remains just that, with Opel seemingly determined to end production by the end of the year.

As the consultant notes: "In my opinion, the plant will closed and will be a logistics centre of one sort or another."

He also adds some jobs have transferred to Volvo's Belgian plant in Ghent - the Swedish manufacturer recently signed a EUR198m loan deal to fund production - but Antwerp's Opel operations look to be no more.