GM seeks solution for Opel’s Antwerp plant image

GM Europe is forming a group to discuss the future of Opel’s plant in Antwerp, Belgium and will give details on its restructuring plan after talks are concluded, it said on Monday.

“We will naturally examine once again all options for Antwerp and see if there is still a possibility (to keep it open),” General Motors Europe President Carl-Peter Forster told reporters in Ruesselsheim on Monday.

Magna and Russian partner Sberbank two weeks ago struck a deal to buy a majority stake of Opel from GM. They plan to cut about a tenth of Opel’s workforce of 50,000, half of whom work in Germany, and could close the Antwerp plant that is losing production of the Astra hatchback.

Negotiations over Magna’s restructuring plan for Opel will continue on Friday, two sources familiar with the matter said.

“The fact that all investors (who bid for Opel including RHJ and Magna) in the end said that Antwerp could not be kept in the long term gives us cause for concern,” Forster added.

GM Europe said it would form a working group to deal specifically with the issue of Antwerp as part of restructuring talks that are expected to result in 10,500 job cuts at Opel — the bulk of which will likely affect the German plants in Bochum and Ruesselsheim.

Forster, a top candidate to become chief executive of a new Opel, rebutted a recent report in German magazine Der Spiegel that said Antwerp was more profitable than its rival site in Bochum.

If this was true it could pose a problem for Magna when it seeks regulatory approval from EU competition authorities, because it could be difficult to justify shutting down a more efficient plant while keeping a less efficient one alive.

PLANNED SIGNING

“We came to a different calculation and naturally we will share this with the labor representatives,” Forster said.

Bochum’s workforce leader Rainer Einenkel had said on Friday the cost to manufacture a vehicle at his site was 200 euros ($293) lower per car than in Antwerp.