March 24, 2011 11:44 pm

GM to build new van at Luton

General Motors said that it would make the next generation of its Vivaro van at Vauxhall’s factory in Luton, securing the future of the UK’s largest light commercial vehicle plant for at least another decade.

The US carmaker produces the current generation of the van at the plant in co-operation with Renault, which makes its Trafic van there. Production of new versions of both vans is due to launch in 2013.

The French carmaker said it would take production of its next-generation Trafic to Sandouville, France, which will also make a new high-roof version of Opel/ Vauxhall’s Vivaro.

However, Nick Reilly, chairman of Opel/ Vauxhall, said that GM was forecasting the same production volumes for the new generation as the entire output today of the Luton plant, which made 40,000 vehicles last year.

GM says that the new van will be produced in several variants, and that Luton will “continue to play an important role in the Opel/ Vauxhall manufacturing network”.

GM and Renault have co-operated on light commercial vehicles since 1996 and last year agreed to continue producing them together, but had not yet determined where.

The Luton plant’s future came into question during the financial crisis, when sales of commercial vehicles plummeted and GM attempted to secure a government-led bail-out of Opel/ Vauxhall, causing a tense pan-European tussle over jobs and plants.

As part of its restructuring, GM secured a temporary wage freeze and other concessions from Vauxhall’s workforce aimed at cutting costs and improving productivity.

Len McCluskey, secretary general of the trade union Unite, on Thursday praised Mr Reilly for his role in securing an agreement with Renault. He described GM’s decision as “fantastic news”.

“It secures the future of Vauxhall in Luton and puts to rest any uncertainty over jobs”, Mr McCluskey said. “Without a new model Luton would have closed; instead the plant has work until at least 2020, and 1500 jobs have been secured”.

Among rival carmakers, Jaguar Land Rover –owned by India’s Tata Motors - last year shelved a plant to close one of its two west Midlands plants after securing concessions on pay and overtime aimed at ensuring greater flexibility.

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