Frankfurt, Germany - General Motors will cut 1400 people from the 4500 payroll at its factory in Antwerp, Belgium, as part of a production shake-up for the next generation of the Vauxhall/Opel Astra model from 2010.
GM Europe, in a statement released here by German subsidiary Opel said the Astra would not be assembled in Antwerp beyond 2010. Instead, they will be built at Bochum in Germany, Ellesmere Port in England, Trollhattan in Sweden and Gliwice in Poland.
The statement added: "There is no talk of closing the plant but lower production volumes will mean 1400 fewer employees.”
One possible option would be to build Chevrolet cars in Antwerp but, whatever the outcome, GM said, "we plan to adjust production there to normal demand development and to reduce it".
Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt voiced his disappointment. He and the federal and regional Flemish governments were "all the more disappointed on account of the numerous efforts in recent years... to make the site one of the best-performing in Europe".
The job cuts threaten to cause fresh drama in an industrial sector that is a major employer in Belgium. Many carmakers have - or have had – factories there even though the country has no domestic brands.
Only months ago Volkswagen, Europe's biggest automaker, announced huge layoffs at a site on the outskirts of Brussels although it later made plans to make Audi vehicles there to save some jobs.
The VW cuts, described as "a national catastrophe" by local politicians, have come 10 years after the closure of a Renault plant north of Brussels from which the region is still struggling to recover.
GM's current Astra, in production since 2003 and scheduled to run until 2009, reached annual sales of 500 000 – the plans were for 450 000 - but sales are expected to fall sharply as the model approaches the end of its life cycle, making an adjustment in the headcount necessary ahead of the launch of the new models.
GM said 10 000 jobs had been axed at Bochum plant and 1000 at Ellesmere Port; not it was Antwerp's turn.
The news came after management and union representatives met in Brussels to discuss cost-cutting at the US auto giant's European subsidiaries. GM opened talks in March on a new cost-cutting programme at its European units Saab, Vauxhall and Opel, with overcapacity reportedly set to rise sharply in the coming years.