The fate of General Motors Europe’s Opel plant in Antwerp, Belgium, which seemed certain earlier this month when the carmaker announced that it had failed to find a suitable buyer, may once again be up for debate as fresh talks are said to take place between GM and Chinese carmaker Geely. But the chances for a deal to pass have been played down by GM.
Meanwhile, any such deal between GM and a possible suitor would have to include provision for the land controlled by the carmaker at the port of Antwerp, Automotive Logistics News has learned.
The talks between GM and Geely, which were confirmed by Antwerp Port Authority today, follow the visit of Geely’s chairman Li Shufu to Belgium last week where he met Flanders minister president Kris Peeters as part of an EU-China summit to discuss the company’s control of Volvo in Belgium. Geely bought Volvo from Ford in August for $1.5bn and controls the carmaker’s plant in nearby Ghent.
GM would not confirm the nature of the discussions and said only that it was pursuing “a two-pronged strategy”.
“On the one hand we are preparing the closure of the plant until the end of the year,” said a spokesperson. “During the remainder of the year, however, we remain open for any new and viable business proposal from investors who might be interested in purchasing the plant and continuing vehicle manufacturing.”
The company is blaming Belgian media speculation for the surfacing of a possible deal with Geely and the chances of a deal appear remote as Geely distanced itself last week from speculation about its interest in the plant during its chairman’s visit. Geely’s current business plans for Volvo include maintaining European production in Sweden and Belgium, while building new plants in China. Earlier this month GM reportedly failed to reach agreement with other US and Chinese investors in the plant.
A stay of execution on the plant, which was due to make its last car at the end of December, would save jobs for the remaining 1,350 people working there. It would also have implications about the land GM operates under contract at the port of Antwerp for shipping vehicles and parts made at the adjacent plant. Under the terms of the contract, which was signed in 1965, should a carmaker take over the Opel plant it will also have to take over the land used at the port and guarantee industrial use or sell it to the port authority. Should a deal fail to come through, and GM were to relinquish its use of the land, the port has already planned to purchase the land and develop it.
“Antwerp Port Authority has a right of option and a right of sale for the GM land,” said the authority in a statement. “As regards the use to be made of the site, the Port Authority will join the discussions with the Flemish government with a view to setting up an industrial project. However, the site could also be used for logistics purposes.”
The purchase is part of a long-term investment plan the authority is making worth €1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) designed to provide new roads, tram and light rail projects as well as initiatives to promote barge and rail transport at the port.
Last week a GM spokesperson told Automotive Logistics News that closing the Antwerp plant did not necessarily mean the company would stop using the port as a shipping location for vehicles and material. It would, however, impact the Opel/Vauxhall network in Europe, indicating that the GM may look to scale back the current size of the Antwerp land. “The trucking routes and rail connections will now be optimised and sized to the new volume streams,” said the spokesperson.
In 2009 the port of Antwerp imported around 240,000 cars and exported more than 530,000, a total handling down 20% year-on-year.