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Thousands of Opel jobs in Europe could be cut

As many as 10,500 Opel jobs in Europe could be cut, including nearly half of them in Germany, the co-chief executive of Magna International Inc. says.
/ Source: The Associated Press

As many as 10,500 Opel jobs in Europe could be cut, nearly half of them in Germany, the co-chief executive of Magna International Inc. said Monday, plans that are drawing criticism in countries where the automaker has operations.

Speaking to reporters in Frankfurt, Siegfried Wolf said part of his company's plan for General Motors Co.'s European unit envisions about 4,500 possible job cuts in Germany, where Adam Opel GmbH is based, under plans outlined in July.

"We'll do everything we can to avoid job losses," Wolf said.

"If we convince enough customers, we'll be talking about more, not less employees," Wolf said at an afternoon press conference.

Opel employs some 49,000 workers in Europe and has plants including in Spain, Britain, Poland and Germany.

Wolf did not say directly which plants would be affected or how many workers at them could be in danger of losing their jobs, but referred to Magna's original plan, part of the bid it made in July, which saw cuts including of up to 2,045 at the plant in Bochum; 830 jobs at the Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, Britain; and 2,321 jobs at its plant in Antwerp, Belgium.

Wolf also wouldn't directly say whether the plant in Antwerp would close in March 2010, as Magna outlined in its July plan. He said that jobs might be able to be saved across the company by doing contract work for other companies, for example.

Wolf said that jobs at the Magna parts division were safe and that it was not being threatened by other car manufacturers that might not want to buy parts from a competitor. Analysts had said Volkswagen, for example, had indicated it would move away from Magna parts if it bought Opel.

German Gref, the president of Sberbank, also said at the press conference that the bank sees a long and strong partnership with Opel, which it wants to develop into a more prominent player on the Russian market.

"We have big risks, but very good chances to have success in the next five years," Gref told reporters.

"I have no doubt that the partnership will be successful," he said.

Wolf said he hopes the new Opel will have all loans from the government paid off and for Opel to be profitable by 2015.

Last week, General Motors Co. agreed to sell 55 percent of the unit to Canada's Magna International and Russian lender Sberbank in a 50-50 split. GM will keep 35 percent, the biggest single stake in Opel, and Opel workers will hold 10 percent.

Last week, GM said that work at the Antwerp plant could be wound down and that some production at Zaragoza, Spain could be moved to Eisenach, in Germany, drawing criticism of Germany for seemingly negotiating the deal to protect its plants and Opel work force, which numbers 25,000 people in Germany.

Magna had promised to keep Opel's four plants in Germany — Eisenach, Bochum, Ruesselsheim and Kaiserslautern — open.

Probe the deal
Belgium has asked the European Union to investigate the deal to make sure Germany is not violating antitrust rules.

The deal, announced last Thursday, still hinges on conditions that could take weeks or months to work out, such as final agreement for government financing and union support, but Wolf reiterated he expected the deal to close in November.

The German government threw its support for the Magna and Sberbank bid with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government giving ⁈llion in bridge financing to keep Opel afloat and offering ⁈llion more in credit to complete the deal.

Opel's new management intends to use about ⁈llion ($250 million) of the support funds it receives from Germany to upgrade its business in Russia, a German government spokesman said Monday.

That's far lower than the ⁈llion figure cited in press reports earlier Monday, though how the total financing and corporate arrangement turns out is still open to talks between governments, GM, Opel and its new owners.

Speaking at the government's daily press conference, Ulrich Wilhelm, a government spokesman, said the investment for Russia could take several forms.

"The collective umbrella terms mean guarantees, and guarantees in that context can be state aid for factories or credit," he told reporters.