SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes is hopeful a stay of execution for Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port car plant can be obtained – despite recent announcements of job losses.
Hawes, who represents the UK automotive industry and lobbies the government on its behalf, said there are ‘clearly uncertainties’ around Ellesmere Port, but added he was ‘hopeful’ for the future.
The Vauxhall factory, which currently makes the Astra, is moving from two shifts to one next year, resulting in 400 job losses from the plant’s 1,800-strong workforce.
Vauxhall Opel was acquired by the French PSA Group in August and is now working to cut costs across the businesses and introduce efficiencies.
The latter is the most worrying for the UK Vauxhall plants, at Ellesmere Port and Luton, as Brexit uncertainty clouds the judgment of PSA bosses.
Hawes said: ‘The takeover of Vauxhall and Opel by PSA brings a degree of uncertainty, but Ellesmere Port is a strong location with a good, productive workforce. If you look at Carlos Tavares [PSA Group chief executive] he’s a businessman and he’ll make decisions on what’s good for the business.’
The UK prime minister Theresa May sought assurances from the PSA boss in a phone call earlier this year, but Tavares has refused to commit to manufacturing in the UK.
A statement by PSA Group said: ‘Once [PSA] has enough visibility on the future trading relationship with the EU, and the plant competitiveness has been addressed, the company will be in a position to consider future investments.’
The SMMT chief executive said he was buoyed by Tavares’ previous comments that he had never closed a car plant, adding: ‘Anyone in his position will want to review the facts and he’s gone on record saying he has never closed a plant so I am hopeful.
‘Yes, the fact they have cut the workforce is a concern. Hopefully that can be achieved by voluntary redundancies and is seen more as a reflection on demand in the UK and [continental] Europe rather than fundamental long-term change.’
A Vauxhall spokesman told the BBC when the job cuts were announced that the move from two shifts to one was nothing to do with Brexit, but about ‘maintaining competitiveness in a changing industry’.
He added buyers were increasingly looking for SUVs and moving away from the type of five-door estates and hatchbacks made at Ellesmere Port.
Vauxhall is under increasing pressure in the UK with car sales down 25.5 per cent in September, widely regarded as the most important month for car sales in the UK.
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