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GM: Opel Plants In Germany Safe

All four Opel plants in Germany will remain open under a restructuring plan, leaving the threat of closure hanging over other facilities in Britain, Spain, Belgium and Poland.

RUESSELSHEIM, Germany (AP) -- An Opel plant in Belgium faces an uncertain future as General Motors Co. moves to restructure its European operation, a drive expected to cost some 9,000 jobs across the continent, a top executive said Wednesday.

Nick Reilly, the head of GM Europe, detailed GM's plans to employee representatives from Opel and sister brand Vauxhall. He stressed that action is needed because "the competition in this industry is intense and getting fiercer every day."

"Overall, we are going to reduce our capacity by around 20 percent, and we expect to reduce the number of people by approximately 9,000," he told reporters after the meeting at Opel's headquarters.

Reilly did not give an exact breakdown of how many jobs might go where, but he said that "probably between 50 and 60 percent" of the cuts would be made in Germany.

Opel employs around 45,000 people in Europe, about 25,000 of them in Germany. Reilly made clear in meetings with German officials Tuesday and Wednesday that Opel's four plants in the country will remain open.

However, it is unclear whether the Antwerp, Belgium, plant will survive.

"We have agreed to set up a work group on the Antwerp plant because the future of that plant is uncertain," Reilly said. "So we have agreed to consider and consult on alternatives for that plant."

Reilly did not say what those alternatives might be. Opel produces its Astra model in Antwerp, which also had been threatened under a now-abandoned plan for GM to sell a majority in Opel.

Reilly acknowledged that the overhaul would involve "some difficult decisions."

"It does not mean that any individual or any groups of individuals are doing a bad job," he said. "It's just facing the reality of today's market."

He stressed that "no final decisions" have been taken pending consultations on the restructuring plan, and acknowledged the need to conclude those soon following months of uncertainty over Opel's future.

"We stressed that we must get this phase over as quickly as possible because the uncertainty that's been hanging over some parts of Opel and Vauxhall is doing nobody any good," Reilly said. He added that he hoped to conclude consultations within two or three weeks.

He told reporters that GM would try to cut as many jobs as possible through voluntary resignations.

GM shocked European governments and employees earlier this month by abruptly canceling the planned sale of a majority in Opel to a consortium of Canadian auto parts maker Magna International Inc. and Russian lender Sberbank.

GM originally agreed to the deal at a time when it was headed toward bankruptcy protection. Since then, it has cut its debt, scaled back operations and seen car sales stabilize.

The sale was ditched partly over fears that GM would lose control of Opel-designed technology, which includes next-generation designs for some key cars to be sold in the U.S.

On Monday, GM asked European governments to help pay most of the euro3.3 billion ($4.9 billion) it needs to restructure its European operations.

EU nations where GM has plants have vowed to avoid individual negotiations with the company before a Dec. 4 meeting at which they will coordinate their response to GM's plans.

"We do expect some contributions from employees, and we are hopeful that we will get some funding help from governments," Reilly said Wednesday. "We have also said that GM can and will put some money in as well."

Associated Press Writer Geir Moulson contributed to this report from Berlin.

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