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Auto Industry

German city of Bochum hit hard by Opel closure

A plant in Bochum has long been given up by General Motors management. Some 4,000 jobs are at stake, and Germany's economics minister has criticized the way GM has handled the problem.

As of 2016 on there will be no more cars leaving the Opel plant in the western German city of Bochum. On Monday (10.12.2012), the automobile producer's interim chief Thomas Sedran announced the end of the factory in a brief statement. Opel does however want to keep a factory producing parts and a distribution center at the Bochum site. Sedran did not say how many of the currently 4,000 jobs will be axed as a result of the decision.

Workers took the news with bitterness. In order to shoulder their share in keeping the plant alive, they had in past years agreed to not have their salary raised or not receive their Christmas bonuses. Yet the end of the plant did not come as a complete surprise. United States public radio broadcaster NPR several weeks ago already reported that General Motors managers had long ago decided to shut down the Bochum plant.

The New York Times claimed that GM believed production facilities in Bochum were outdated, and that the average age of the workers was too high and production therefore too expensive. This year alone, GM expects a loss of some $1.8 billion in Europe.

Management mistakes?

Bochum mayor Ottilie Scholz described the decision to close the plant as a "bitter loss for the city and the region." Economis Minister Rainer Brüderle openly criticized the way that GM handled the problems at Bochum, adding that GM had blocked its German subsidiary Opel from access to the Asian markets.

Opel Kadett

50 years ago, the Opel Kadett was a big seller

The regional chamber of commerce sees the decision as an absurd mistake that serious management should reconsider. After all, the Bochum plant produces the Zafira, a van which is one of Opel's most successful current models.

With the end of Opel, Bochum is taking its second serious blow within a few years. In 2008, Finnish mobile phone company Nokia closed its factory in the city, moving production to Romania. 2,300 jobs were lost and have not yet been replaced.

Suppliers also hit

The end for the Bochum plant is also bad news for the suppliers in the region. Among them, for instance, is Johnson Control, a company that produces the seats for Opel vehicles. Labor market experts believe that another 3,000 jobs could be affected by the closure of that plant.

Rainer Einenkel, workers' council head at Opel in Bochum, vows to fight on. He told journalists that "we are smart enough not to be provoked into anything. We now will discuss which measures are needed to keep the plant going."

He suggested that the new Zafira successor model could be build post-2017 in Bochum. Also the new compact car Mocca could be assembled there. But most workers have no hope for the future of their jobs.

Upcoming talks are essentially about whether at least some of the jobs can be saved. According to interim Opel head Sedran, the distribution center is at the heart of this discussion. Currently, it provides some 430 jobs, and Sedran suggested there might be more in the future. Also possible was an expansion of the component production, which could save another few hundred jobs.

Opel says it wants to avoid job cuts if possible. Employees could, for example, be transferred to other plants in Germany. But many doubt that the workers will move to sites in Russelsheim or Eisenach - during earlier job cuts, only very few had taken up such offers.

Next Sunday, Bochum has a celebration scheduled for the 50th anniversary of the plant. But with the plant closing two weeks before Christmas, the mood at the Bochum facility is at a record low and hardly anyone is likely to feel like celebrating.

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