General Motors CEO Dan Akerson and recently-appointed Chairman of Opel Karl-Thomas Neumann will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel next week, reportedly to discuss the rejection of the automaker’s plan to maintain operations by workers at Opel’s Bochum plant in Germany. The one-hour meeting with Merkel in Berlin on Thursday comes as European car sales reach an all-time low and a slumping economy.
Coincidentally, Merkel will be seeking a third reelection to the chancellor position in September. After her first election in 2005, Merkel was then re-elected in 2009 amid involved negotiations between GM and Germany about Opel’s future, at which point The General wanted to shutter or sell the German brand. One of the most concrete suitors for Opel turned out to be Canadian parts supplier Magna, backed by Russian financial firm Sberbank. The deal ended up falling through, as GM made a last-minute decision (that was perhaps spearheaded by GM CEO Dan Akerson) to keep Opel.
For its part, Opel — GM’s second-most popular brand (behind Chevrolet) — has been consistently unprofitable over the course of the last decade. And despite repeated job cuts by the unit, the European economic downturn has amplified Opel’s losses, as car sales fell to roughly 20-year lows in the region. One of the planned strategic moves by GM-Opel to trim its losses involves trimming overcapacity and shutting down production at the Bochum plant in western Germany by mid-decade. Bochum currently produces the Opel Zafira, but given GM’s recently-established partnership with PSA Peugeot Citroen, the next generation of the compact MPV will be developed and manufactured by the French automaker.
In March, Bochum plant workers rejected a proposal that offered to keep the plant open, although not by producing the Zafira, but by manufacturing and warehousing parts and components through the end of 2016; the move would have still resulted in a reduction of staff at the plant — from the current 3,000 to 1,200 (both figures approximate). In exchange to agreeing to extend the plant’s operations, workers would have agreed to delay or eliminate wage increases. Now that Opel’s proposal to restructure the plant has been rejected, the facility will likely be closed by the end of 2014.
According to government spokesman Georg Streiter, the meeting between Akerson, Neumann, and Merkel coincided with a meeting of the GM board in Germany, and came at the request of the automaker. Asked by reporters whether Opel would be the subject of Thursday’s discussions, Streiter said he “could not rule it out”.
Notably, Minister of German Economy Philipp Roesler will not be in attendance, as he will be on an official trip to Turkey, said the German ministry.