German, UK car plants in balance as Opel board meets

Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:50am EDT
 
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By Christiaan Hetzner

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The board of European carmaker Opel met on Wednesday under pressure from parent General Motors (GM.N: Quote) to put an end to years of steep losses, with thousands of workers in Germany and Britain fearing the closure of their plants.

The 20-person board, which includes United Auto Workers boss Bob King for the first time, was scheduled to begin meeting at Opel's headquarters in Ruesselsheim at around 0900 GMT and last into late afternoon.

Company sources said prior to the meeting that it was not clear whether management would go ahead with submitting a mid-term business plan that includes plant closures, or focus on less sensitive issues such as the appointment of a new sales chief.

One source close to the board said plant closures would be the elephant in the room even if they were not discussed.

GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson and Opel Chairman Steve Girsky are pushing Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke to lower the company's breakeven point by shifting production from high-wage countries in western Europe to emerging markets.

Though Opel has said no plants will go before the end of 2014, most expect the 50-year old factory at Bochum in western Germany will be earmarked for closure, along with one at Ellesmere Port, the company's only remaining car plant in the UK, where the brand is known as Vauxhall.

"We're not going to staauthorizedng with fear just because everyone is saying Bochum will be closed," said one source close to Bochum's labor leaders, who was not authorized to speak to the press.

"GM won't announce any plant closure today, anyway, since they'd be crazy to give up their trump card. The moment they say which plants are safe, they can no longer play them off against each other in the hopes of extracting concessions."   Continued...

 
Workers arrive for their change of shift at the Opel plant of Bochum in March 28, 2012. The board of European carmaker Opel met on Wednesday under pressure from U.S. parent General Motors to put an end to years of steep losses, with thousands of workers in Germany and Britain fearing the closure of their plants. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender