* First closure of a German car plant in decades
* Ruesselsheim seen building Zafira MPV in 2015-2016
* Split continues in German labour union ranks
* Bochum places hopes on solidarity from sister plant
FRANKFURT, April 17 Top executives from General
Motors who sit on the board of loss-making European brand
Opel are meeting on Wednesday to approve the first closure of a
German car factory in decades.
As part of a comprehensive turnaround plan, Opel will end
producing Zafira MPVs at its 50-year old Bochum plant by the end
of next year, a move that has triggered a rare and public split
within union ranks following months of tough negotiations.
The closure, which will lead to the loss of 3,000 jobs in
Bochum, north-western Germany, is a key element in management's
strategy to achieve profitability in 2015 at the earliest after
what will then be 15 straight years of losses for GM in Europe.
Carmakers across Europe are cutting production to cope with
plunging demand in an ailing economy. Data on Wednesday showed
European car sales fell 10.3 percent in March.
Labour leaders in Bochum, a former coal mining town in the
economically depressed Ruhr region, believe colleagues at Opel's
other three German plants were all too willing to sacrifice
Bochum in order to save their own factories.
Betting GM would not take the unusual and costly step of
shifting production and tooling of the Zafira prior to 2017, the
Bochum works council led opposition against a compromise deal
that would have kept the plant running through the end of the
"General Motors said they were willing at most to keep 1,200
people on board, but nothing was set in stone. It never made any
concrete binding offer to the workforce, so our entire staff
would have had to hope they kept up their end of the bargain,"
Bochum works council head Rainer Einenkel, who also sits on the
board of Opel, told Reuters.
Einenkel's three fellow works council chiefs, who have all
since inked deals protecting their constituents from cuts, are
now in the uneasy position of having to support Bochum's labour
leader, from whom they have distanced themselves publicly.
"Unions on the board will vote against the closure even if
Einenkel has not made himself any friends. As much as I think it
would be a good idea to send a message, I don't think unions
will abstain - that would be too much of an insult to the Bochum
workforce," said a company source familiar with the matter.
Even if all the union representatives vote against the
closure, however, the plan will be approved if it is backed by
the other board members, as is expected.
Wednesday's boardroom decision will also likely mean that
the historic home plant of Opel in Ruesselsheim will profit from
Bochum's demise as company sources say it is set to build the
Zafira during the last two years of the model's life-cycle.
"If a decision is taken tomorrow to shift production of the
Zafira to another German factory for 2015 and 2016, then I hope
the workforce would refuse out of solidarity to Bochum,"