GM's Opel Job Cuts: 8,300 Positions To Be Eliminated In Europe
BRUSSELS — General Motors Co.'s Opel unit will cut 8,300 jobs across
Europe, including 4,000 in Germany, and close a plant in Antwerp,
Belgium – casualties of the "tough reality" of a shrinking European auto
Opel head Nick Reilly said Thursday that the Antwerp plant had to go,
with the loss of 2,606 jobs, because the company needs to shed 20
percent of its manufacturing capacity. That's because far fewer cars are
being sold as a result of the recession.
"We have to take a plant out and unfortunately it's Antwerp," Reilly
said at a press conference in Brussels. "It is the tough reality of the
current business environment."
He said Antwerp would be the only Opel plant in Europe to shut down but
warned that none of the company's German factories would escape
"substantial" job cuts.
The company is still in talks with European governments – including
Germany – about some euro2.7 billion (in state subsidies it wants as
part of the euro3.3 billion it plans to spend on restructuring. Reilly
said GM is already contributing euro600 million and may add more.
Berlin angered other European governments last year by offering a
multibillion euro (dollar) subsidy package for a potential buyer for
Opel that was reportedly linked to promises to save jobs in Germany.
European Union regulators told the German government it could not give
the company money to reduce jobs in one location and not another,
ordering them to also offer any subsidies to other buyers – or for GM to
keep the plant. That forced GM's hand and it dropped plans to sell Opel.
The Antwerp factory, founded in 1924, has already shrunk from employing
7,000 workers at its peak to around a third of that today. It produces
the Astra three-door, convertible and station-wagon versions, almost all
of them for delivery outside Belgium.
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Reilly said GM had decided to shut down Antwerp by the middle of the
year because the cars it makes can also be produced elsewhere and it
would be too costly to shut another factory and shift its output to Belgium.
The Belgian government had tried to stave off the Antwerp plant's
closure by earlier this year offering the company up to euro500 million
($707 million) to upgrade the facilities.
Reilly said the economic crisis means western European car markets will
likely sell 1.5 million fewer cars this year than in 2009, or around 12
million, down from 13.6 million last year. This is a sharp fall from the
14.7 million sold in 2006 and 2007.
"We're pretty sure it's not going to go back to the kind of volumes we
had in the past," he said. "We are losing money and we have to do
something about it."
General Motors' sales in Europe have suffered more than the rest of the
industry, falling 5.6 percent last year from 2008 – well below a 0.5
percent yearly gain for the entire car sector.
The company has lost market share in Europe, down two percentage points
to 8.3 percent in 2009, as it failed to jump on the trend for smaller,
fuel-efficient cars favored by cash-for-clunkers programs and
cash-conscious buyers and
The GM cutbacks were a hard blow for Opel workers in Antwerp and
automotive supply companies that employ 10,000 workers.
"Some cried, some said finally, at least we know what we are up against,
what our future is going to be," Werner Dillen, a spokesman for the Opel
Antwerp trade union told Associated Press television.
The news wasn't a total surprise as there has been talk of Antwerp
closing for several years. Achmed Teghmas, a worker at the plant, said
"it has been two, three years that everybody says this plant will shut
Reilly said he expected workers would be "potentially angry for a time"
but said he did not anticipate industrial action because they still had
cars to build over coming months.
Opel's trade unions across Europe said in a statement that the company
was breaking a commitment to make a small new sport utility vehicle at
Antwerp that it will instead make it in South Korea.
Reilly said the economic crisis has forced the company to change its
plans and that SUVs are no longer big sellers. The heavy gas-guzzlers
have lost market share to smaller models.
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