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Germany Says No GM Decision Yet on Opel Plants

The fate of carmaker Opel remains uncertain even as a key German politician said troubled US parent company General Motors had not made a decision regarding the future of plants in Germany.

An Opel factory in Germany

Opel faces an uncertain future as parent company GM moves on a global cost-cutting plan

German politicians on Thursday, Feb 19, reiterated that nothing could be decided on the future of Opel before General Motors submitted details of its global restructuring plan.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck and Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg insisted that any government aid for Opel could only be considered once GM presented a viable restructuring concept.

Steinbrueck however did not rule out the possibility of state guarantees for the carmaker.

"We’re ready to talk because it’s about the future of 26,000 Opel employees and at least as many suppliers," the minister told daily paper Ruhr Nachrichten.

Employees walking into an Opel plant in Bochum

The fate of Opel factories won't be decided until GM issues its global restructuring plans

Opel employs around 26,000 people in factories in Ruesselsheim, Bochum, Kaiserslautern and Eisenach.

The carmaker has been hobbled by troubles at General Motors. Opel sales last year declined by more than 10 percent.

GM this week said it would cut 47,000 jobs worldwide, close plants, dump brands and slash production, notably in Europe where it seeks to save more than one billion euros ($1.26 billion).

GM's European brands include Opel in Germany, Vauxhall in Britain and Saab in Sweden. GM also markets its Chevrolet brand in Europe.

Politician says no GM decision yet on plant closures

Juergen Ruettgers, premier of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia which is home to Opel, traveled to Detroit this week to meet GM officials.

On Wednesday, Ruettgers met Rick Wagoner, head of GM.

"We are so relieved," Ruettgers told reporters after the meeting. "There is no decision to close auto works in Germany, also not in Bochum."

Oliver Burkhard, of Germany's biggest union, IG Metall, also participated in the talks and appeared to be satisfied.

"Wagoner is open to participation by third parties and finding a solution for Opel," he said.

Wagoner himself did not speak to the press, but on Tuesday said that "everything" was on the table.

Massive job cuts

Juergen Ruettgers

Ruettgers traveled to Detroit to meet with GM officials

The possibility of closures emerged Tuesday, when GM told the US government that as part of its plan to survive and hang on to government loans, it would cut 47,000 jobs worldwide over the next year, including 26,000 outside the United States.

The company will sell or phase out at least three of its brands: Hummer, Saturn and Saab, GM said. German subsidiary Opel could also be on the chopping block, GM said.

Opel Europe has been directed by Wagoner to work out a plan for long-term cost savings in the coming weeks, the German officials said. Among the possibilities would be a Europe-wide alliance with two other GM properties, Saab and Vauxhall, to give Opel enough heft to compete on the market. Participation by other industrial enterprises could also be an option.

Concept for the future

Earlier on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government's hands were tied until she heard a "concept for the future" from the company. She said it was up to the European arm of General Motors to make the first proposal,

An Opel employee passes by a poster depicting Opel cars in Ruesselsheim, Germany

Opel employees in Germany want to keep their jobs

In Zurich, GME chief Carl-Peter Forster and labor leaders said in a joint statement, "If it makes sense for sustainable success at GME and Opel, management is willing to negotiate with third parties on partnerships and equity stakes."

Corporate sources said GME might accept some of the German states as new part-owners.

Workers at the Bochum plant were shaken by GM's call for US government funding and a plan to slash 47,000 jobs in the United States and other countries.

"We heard about it on the radio during the night shift," said one worker at the plant gate as he was heading home.

The plant, in the former coal-mining city of Bochum, is a branch factory of Ruesselsheim-based Opel, the main GM Europe brand.

Five years ago, German unions accepted pay cuts as a means to persuade Opel to reduce planned layoffs from 10,000 to 8,000 jobs and to promise to keep jobs till 2010, but beyond that date the future is bleak.

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