Cablegate: Gm's Opel Chief Sees More Job Cuts Despite Company
UNCLAS FRANKFURT 007910
USDOC FOR COMMERCIAL SERVICE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EIND ECON ETRD ELTN GM
SUBJECT: GM's Opel Chief Sees More Job Cuts Despite Company
Turnaround, Pent-Up Consumer Demand
1. (SBU) Opel (GM) Chairman Carl-Peter Forster is
optimistic that the automaker can keep its market share
growing but pessimistic about overall demand, profits, and
the future of the German auto industry. Forster expects
that Opel will be forced to announce another round of
layoffs at its facility in Bochum (North Rhine-Westphalia).
Germany will remain a leading auto producer, but many jobs
will move to countries where labor cost is lower,
particularly Eastern Europe. The Opel chairman faulted the
German government and opposition for not offering a
coherent economic vision that boosts consumer confidence.
2. (SBU) The CG met GM-Opel Chairman/CEO Carl-Peter Forster
at Opel's headquarters in Ruesselsheim in the lead-up to
the IAA show in Frankfurt (the world's largest auto show).
Forster, who engineered Opel's remarkable turnaround
starting in 2001 (increasing its market share from nine to
10.9 percent), fears a setback in the second half of 2003.
The European car market has contracted three to four
percent in the last four years and sales volume has fallen
for all manufacturers. Opel now faces a strong Euro and
the expensive launch of the new Astra model. Less volume
and higher costs will likely translate into more layoffs,
particularly at the Bochum plant in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Worried about the economic situation, consumers continue to
delay purchases and buy more basic cars (smaller engines
and fewer accessories), reducing the profit margin per
vehicle. Forster is "frustrated by the lack of political
leadership .... There is so little on Schroeder's
achievement list and the opposition makes it worse by
creating greater confusion". Still, he expects the German
car market to grow by five percent in 2004 because of pent-
up demand (average vehicle age in Germany is now over seven
3. (SBU) Opel depends on European markets because it cannot
export to the US in competition with parent GM. Forster
rejects speculation that Opel would enter the US market:
"GM's problem is not too few, but too many brands."
Currently more decentralized than other producers, GM will
more closely coordinate its brands in the future. Forster
said GM never managed to create synergy between the US and
German markets, adding that competitor Daimler-Chrysler's
merger is not working well either because of the very
different product lines. CG raised the issue of diesel
engine technology; Forster said diesel passenger vehicles
have a future in the US and could make a major contribution
to reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. Opel made a
strategic mistake in moving its diesel competence center to
Japan and now lags behind competitors in Europe's diesel
boom. GM/Opel are counting on their co-development/co-
production with Fiat (the "Powertrain" alliance) to reduce
costs and further expand market share in Europe.
4. (SBU) The drive to lower costs will mean that auto-
sector jobs continue to migrate out of Germany. Forster
noted that while Ford saves perhaps 20 percent by having a
supplier park on its compound in Saarlouis (SW Germany),
suppliers in Eastern Europe are up to 80 percent cheaper.
Forster wondered why a public outcry ensued when Opel cut a
few hundred jobs in Ruesselsheim, but the fact that
suppliers have moved thousands of jobs to Eastern Europe
attracts little attention. Forster praised Opel's German
workforce who identify with Opel and seldom strike. "I
prefer the sophisticated and well-educated workforce here
who know what is going on in the company" through their
participation (Mitbestimmung on Opel's supervisory board).
Forster predicted, however, that labor has a tough road
ahead because of EU integration and globalization. The
brand identity and core competence for technology will
remain German, but most value-added will migrate out of
Germany. "Assembly will always remain where the markets
are ... but assembly alone can be done by 300 employees,"
for instance at the new Porsche factory in Leipzig.
5. (SBU) COMMENT: For Opel's 40,000 employees in Germany
-- and for the millions of Germans who depend on the
nation's auto production for their livelihood -- the future
looks difficult despite the expected rebound in German
demand for cars. END COMMENT.