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THE WEEK THAT WAS: Vauxhall workers get a reprieve

By Graeme Roberts | 18 May 2012

That huge collective sigh of relief you probably heard from Merseyside (and very likely Westminster) yesterday would have been Vauxhall management, workers and politicians greeting the news from General Motors' European unit that the Ellesmere Port Astra plant is good to go until at least around 2020.

Another huge plant closure - with drastic effects in the supply chain - would have provoked outrage amongst the public here in Britain and more claims of 'British jobs exported to Europe'. MG Rover died in 2005 and, in the early 2000s, Ford ended car production here and Vauxhall closed its historic Luton car plant.

Keeping the Astra built in Britain - the wagon which is largely exported is likely to change places with the three-door hatchback when the next generation goes into production in 2015 - required significant labour concessions to make Ellesmere Port as flexible and efficient as possible. As their United Auto Workers counterparts had to do after parent GM's Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US, UK union Unite's members had to make concessions to keep the plant and their jobs. Out went the annual summer shutdown and in came 51 weeks of work a year, an extra shift for 24/7 operation and other changes to allow maximum flexibility. In return they got more work, the axe hanging above the plant after 2014 raised to at least 2020, more work for the supply chain and, for a change and a bit of balance, German Opel workers - most likely at Bochum - facing an uncertain future.

GM Europe had signalled earlier in the week that it would take one Astra plant out and that was expected to be Russelsheim. The clear goal, Opel/Vauxhall CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke said, was to run each of the remaining two plants on three shifts as it would not be viable to produce in more than two plants. "If we run these two plants with three shifts, the production costs for the next Astra generation will be significantly below the costs of building the current Astra," he said.

GM has yet to specifically mention axing Bochum, which, like Ellesmere Port, dates back to 1964. But the automaker has made clear it has too many plants in Europe and the pundits reckon Bochum will get the chop after current labour agreements for current production models expire in 2014, a blow to the workforce there.

While we're on the subject of the UK auto industry, we've been talking with motorsport and engineering specialists Prodrive - our exclusive interview is here.

And we're still keeping an eye on Saab - latest is a direct appeal to the US president.

The Paris show is inching closer and we're slowly building our list of expected global debuts.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com