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UK, Poland to build next Opel Astra

Small victory: The decision to keep building Astras at Ellesmere Port secures the plant run by former Holden manufacturing director Martyn Cray.

Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant gets reprieve as lead factory for next-gen Astra

18 May 2012

OPEL has confirmed its Astra small car will continue be built at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port production facility in north-east England and Gliwice in southern Poland when the next-generation model begins production in 2015.

The decision provides a stay of execution until early next decade for Ellesmere Port, which is managed by former Holden manufacturing director Martyn Cray, who recently returned to the UK to take up the position of plant manager.

The Opel brand launches here in September, with Astra supply for Australia to be split from the outset between Ellesmere Port and Gliwice.

Uncertainty had been hanging over the plant’s 2100 workers for some time, but the move from producing the Astra in three plants on two shifts to two plants on three shifts will result in 700 new jobs being created at Ellesmere Port when the new car arrives.

A further boost for the region’s economy – which has also benefited from Land Rover’s success with the Range Rover Evoque that is built at Halewood near Liverpool – comes with the decision to increase the amount of local content in the next Astra to at least 25 per cent.

Vauxhall Motors chairman and managing director Duncan Aldred said doubling the Astra’s British-sourced content would result in £1 billion ($A1.59b) of purchases into the UK economy during the model’s lifecycle, leading to the creation of more than 3000 jobs.

 center imageVauxhall chairman and MD Duncan Aldred, UK Ellesmere Port factory, Polish Gliwice factory.

In addition, General Motors’ European arm is investing £125 million ($A200m) in upgrading Ellesmere Port to meet the latest manufacturing standards in readiness for the new Astra.

Ellesmere Port will serve as the Astra’s lead factory, running in three shifts with at least 160,000 cars built per year – but Mr Aldred said the upgraded plant will be able to run at record-breaking pace of more than 220,000 units annually if required.

The Gliwice facility in Poland was established in 1998, and Opel intends to use its home plant at Russelsheim – which currently builds the Insignia mid-sizer alongside the Astra – to produce other models once current Astra is retired.

Mr Aldred said that, in addition to the five-door hatch, Ellesmere Port will take sole responsibility for building another Astra model line – either the wagon or GTC coupe – and that this decision would be made in coming weeks.

The decision to keep Astra production at Ellesmere Port is the result of a new worker-approved labour agreement that runs through the lifecycle of the next Astra and is designed to increase flexibility and reduce fixed costs, making it one of the most competitive plants available to GM Europe.

Mr Aldred said the agreement “takes manufacturing in the UK here at Vauxhall Motors into the 21st Century”.

“It will deliver hitherto unprecedented levels of flexibility both for the workforce and the manufacturing base we have here.

“It will enable 51-week working and do away with the somewhat old-fashioned factory closures which have been in the UK workplace for centuries, which will be replaced with more flexibility, which will in turn increase the capacity of the plant.”

Opel/Vauxhall CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke said Ellesmere Port and Gliwice will become “cornerstones of our European manufacturing footprint”.

“I am pleased that we were able to develop responsible labour agreements that secure the future of these plants.

“With the proven quality of the products built in Ellesmere Port and Gliwice, and the new agreements and the flexibility and cost competitiveness of these facilities, they will be cornerstones of our European manufacturing footprint.”

The Astra announcement is part of a wider strategy announced by Mr Stracke earlier this week aimed at turning loss-making Opel/Vauxhall around.

Opel’s 10-point plan aims to reduce the cost of building cars, expand alliances beyond GM’s recent tie-up with PSA Peugeot Citroen, and potentially running factories closer to capacity by building Chevrolets.

It also includes an €11 billion ($A14.2b) program of new model launches, three new engines and expansion into overseas markets like Australia.

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