Blog: Dave LeggettOpel/Vauxhall still murky

Dave Leggett | 14 September 2009

Has the fog cleared over the future of GM's European Opel/Vauxhall operations? To some extent perhaps, but major uncertainties remain.

Even if we assume that the deal to sell a majority stake to Magna is now a formality (I am a little wary of such assumptions these days; the deal has yet to be closed), there's still the small matter of addressing a restructuring of operations to give the new 'orphaned' firm a fighting chance of long-term survival.

Where will the cost-cutting axe fall? Again, the politics of the situation - in terms of plants and jobs in different countries - will continue to be very much in the limelight. Will decisions be taken on economic grounds or political ones? We'll see, but it has been pretty political so far.

It may not, however, be quite as simplistic as portrayed in the sense that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have got the deal she wanted ahead of the German general election, but its the post-election period that will see any 'bad' news on German Opel jobs becoming evident.

Other national governments won't sit idly by, either.

OPEL AFTERMATH: Factory, worker, futures unclear

Here in Britain the politicians are stirring, too. The future for Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port looks pretty secure – it is making the new Astra and is seen as a relatively efficient plant. It also acts as a natural currency hedge while the UK stays out of the euro. But there are question-marks against the Vauxhall Luton plant that makes vans in collaboration with Renault.

On the plus side, the UK government is hoping to secure more work for Ellesmere Port, said to be earmarked to make the Ampera range-extender hybrid (the Chevy Volt's European sibling). How has that project been ring-fenced to stop Magna and its Russian partners getting all over the technology? Maybe that's been an open door for the UK government to push at for a while and maybe that helps to explain why Lord Mandelson hasn't been too noisy through the whole Opel/Vauxhall sale process – there's been a quiet 'understanding' with GM over the future Ampera project.

As I say, the politicking and speculation will continue for a while yet. Things should become clearer in October.

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