Opel Antwerp: Doomed to Closure

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Sorry, we have to leave the sexy now for the serious. The big news of the past week on the European auto-manufacturing front was the announcement – finally! – of the fate of Opel, for eighty years the General Motors subsidiary operating in Europe, especially Germany. The winner for Opel’s hand is Magna, a Canadian-Austrian investment consortium working together with the Russian Sberbank as financial partner (and also with the Russian auto company GAZ). The announcement was that GM is willing to sell to Magna a majority stake (55%) in the new company, while it retains 35% (and the Opel workers the remaining 10%).

From there the story proceeded just as it always does when a company gets a new owner, especially in the case of a failing firm where that new owner is being counted on to come in and rescue its fortunes. Clearly, drastic cuts have to be made – but who will bear them?

The answer has always been pretty obvious, but it seems that “De Nile” is not just a river in Egypt, somehow it also flows through Flanders. Opel’s factory located in the harbor area in northern Antwerp was always the leading candidate to draw the short straw and face closure as part of any attempt to reorganize the company. The leading negotiator for General Motors – one John Smith – openly said as much: “In our plans Opel Antwerp is superfluous.” Nonetheless, it’s amusing to read in coverage of the new Magna deal in the Flemish business newspaper De Tijd about the refusal of many parties still to accept that reality. After all, points out Luc van Grinsven, spokesman for the ACV union that represents most of the plant’s workers, that’s only a GM official saying “superfluous,” not anyone representing Magna, i.e. the actual new owners. “The exact consequences of the take-over are not yet clear,” claims Van Grinsven. “But GM after the take-over has no more authority.” And Flemish regional president Kris Peeters is still clinging to a letter he received from Magna at the end of July, assuring him that the company intended to investigate further what possibilities there may be for the future of the plant. (more…)

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