Opel cuts cloud Frankfurt motor show

16th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

With jobs at Opel set to be slashed and German Chancellor Angela Merkel steeling for a tough election battle next Sunday, the mood at the motor show in Germany's financial capital is sombre.

Frankfurt -- Job cutting plans at German car maker Opel clouded the opening of Frankfurt's 63rd motor show on Thursday as the battered global auto industry looks ahead to a future for electric cars.

With 10,500 jobs at loss-making Opel set to be slashed and German Chancellor Angela Merkel steeling for a tough election battle next Sunday, the mood at the motor show in Germany's financial capital was sombre.

"We most probably can't avoid a plant closure" at Opel, General Motors Europe president Carl-Peter Forster told reporters at the show after the company presented new compact Astra and electric Ampera models.

Speculation focused on an Opel factory in Antwerp, Belgium, after GM said last week it would sell a 55-percent stake in Opel to the Canadian auto parts maker Magna and its Russian partner, the state-owned Sberbank.

Magna has said it would cut 10,500 posts from a total workforce of more than 50,000 but has pledged to keep German plants running with financial help from Berlin of up to 4.5 billion euros (6.6 billion dollars).

Forster stressed that Opel would maintain close technological ties with GM, which will remain the car maker's biggest single shareholder with 35 percent.

He urged critics of the deal, who maintain Opel will not be a viable concern despite financial aid, to "allow us to do our work" and judge by the results.

The motor show is a slimmed down version of the last event two years ago owing to an auto crisis brought on by the global economic slump and 750,000 visitors are expected to attend -- down from nearly one million in 2007.

The show opened to the press on Tuesday and opens to the public on Thursday.

Evidence of the slump came from German sports car maker Porsche, which said it sold 24 percent fewer cars in its financial year to July 31.

The chairman of Ford Europe, John Fleming, said the slowdown "has had a devastating effect on our industry" but estimated that after cutting its temporary workforce Ford should be able to avoid further job losses.

Fleming told AFP after the company's show: "If the market keeps going down we'll react accordingly but right now I don't see that."

Ford spotlighted a new five-seat Grand C Max saloon that was designed in Europe and is to be launched in the United States in 2011.

It also focused on 1.6 and 2.0 litre EcoBoost engines which it said would improve fuel economy by 20 percent and reduce CO2 emissions by the same amount.

A total of 781 auto and auto parts manufacturers from 30 countries are to present around 100 new models in all, according to the German auto federation VDA, which organises the show.

Many manufacturers plan to present EVs or hybrid vehicles that run on petrol and electricity.

Among the eagerly awaited rollouts are one from BMW's Mini unit and a four-auto range from city cars to utility models by Renault-Nissan.

Opel showed its Ampera model, which is equipped with a small gas-powered generator that can recharge the car's batteries and go 500 kilometres (313 miles) on one tank of gas, the company said.

Like many auto executives, Ford's Fleming said the cars of the future were likely to be run by a variety of power sources.

"Whether electricity and battery operated vehicles are the end game, I don't know," he said.

Another hot topic is cross-border cooperation, and BMW finance director Friedrich Eichiner said that his company was in "intensive talks" with French peer Peugeot Citroen on expanding joint work, in particular on components.

William Ickes/AFP/Expatica

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