According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the drastic decision by Opel’s US parent company General Motors is meant to reverse a long sequence of losses. But workers say it could jeopardise the future of Opel’s parent plant.
The Astra hatchback is, along with the Corsa, Opel’s most important model, with an annual production volume of around 330,000.
If plans to remove it from Rüsselsheim go ahead, one unionist said it would be comparable to stopping production of the Golf at a Volkswagen factory.
According to the proposals, from 2015 the Astra would only roll off the production line at Ellesmere Port in England and Gliwice in Poland. The mid-range Insignia saloon would become the sole model produced at Rüsselsheim.
The FAZ says the decision will not be officially announced until mid-May, and a company spokesman told the paper there would be no comment until the conclusion of “ongoing talks.” But behind the scenes unionists say that GM vice president Stephen Girsky, president of the Opel board of directors, has made up his mind.
For GM and the Opel management under Karl-Freidrich Stracke, the move is a desperate measure to cut costs.
Since 1999, Opel has cost its parent company $16 billion. The European arm of the US giant, recently described by the GM chief Daniel Akerson as a “building site,” is this year set to notch up its sixth consecutive loss.
It is against this backdrop that GM has decided to refocus operations to the UK and Poland, where the workers are cheaper and more flexible.
Their willingness to work 40-hour weeks and up to 80 Saturday overtime shifts a year should allow for the production of an extra 115,000 units a year, according to projections.
But workers at the Rüsselsheim factory insist they can be part of a coherent cost-cutting strategy.
Their works council, led by Wolfgang Schäfer-Klug, has tabled a last-ditch counterproposal to Girsky, offering to finance the investment that would be needed to produce the new Astras at their plant through pay cuts and other money-saving measures.
It’s not the first time that German Opel workers have been left fearing for their future. In the past three years, GM has slashed 8,000 of its 48,000 European jobs, and in June last year, rumours that the company was to be sold to a Chinese bidder prompted Angela Merkel to call for clarity for Opel’s “hard-working” employees.