Yesterday evening Fiat lodged its bid for General Motors Europe. Today, the German government has started weighing both Fiat’s offer and that from automotive engineering powerhouse Magna and Russian carmaker Gaz.
Considering that the Vauxhall badge and the fate of the two Vauxhall plants (Ellesmere Port and Luton) are in play, there’s remarkably little noise from this side of the Channel.
The local press is alert to the dangers, though hardly up in arms. The UK national press is knee deep in MP’s expenses claims and there’s been little said recently by the Government over the fate of Vauxhall.
Which is very odd, because leaks from the Fiat camp suggests that if the Italians merge Fiat Auto and Opel/Vauxhall, the UK plants will probably be axed.
I have a hunch – and it’s no more than that – that Ellesmere Port may have already quietly lined an escape route no matter what happens to GME.
It was a small-scale supplier to Ellesmere Port who triggered my train of thought. The other day he told me that in his five-year experience of the site, he had never known so much money being invested.
Admittedly, the new Astra is already in pilot production, but there seems to be no pause in commitment to the plant despite GM being in near-bankruptcy and in the middle of a sell-off of its European operations.
You might also remember that a few weeks ago the government said it was going to introduce healthy subsidies to UK buyers of electric vehicles from 2011. Ellesmere Port and Nissan’s Sunderland plant were identified as the two plants that would turn out electric cars.
Indeed, Ellesmere Port has long been in the frame as the European production site for the upcoming Volt, a very clever self-charging electric car based on the new Astra chassis. Government industrial support for such a plan was being floated late last year.
Could it be that GM will retain Ellesmere Port in order to build the European market version of the Chevrolet Volt? The plant is, after all, highly respected by GM bosses.
Remember, after GME is sold off, Chevrolet will be GM’s main brand in the European market. Ellesmere could provide UK-bound Astras on contract for the next 18 months or so, before switching to Volt production.
As I say, it’s only a theory. But it makes a lot of sense to me and it would be a fabulous outcome for the plant.