General Motors plans to raise European Astra production by 80,000 units.
Vauxhall, GM's UK subsidiary, has increased output by 30,000 at its Ellesmere Port plant, while GM's Opel Belgium subsidiary is preparing to build an additional 50,000 cars annually.
Its plant in Antwerp will add an extra shift, boosting its current capacity of 300,000 units a year.
One thousand new workers have been hired at Ellesmere Port, which made 135,000 units in 1997. Vauxhall Chairman Nick Reilly said the positive reception given to Astra at its launch earlier this year has given the firm the chance to increase output earlier than expected.
Meanwhile, a new labor plan at its assembly plant in Antwerp, Belgium, will enable GM to raise Opel Astra production next year with the addition of a night shift.
The agreement took some 10 months of negotiations between Opel and the Belgian factory's labor union, according to Eddy Geysen, vice president for European union affairs at General Motors Europe in Brussels.
Antwerp currently has two production lines that are run by two separate daytime shifts that work 10 hours a day. The plant has been operating at about 95 percent of capacity, Geysen said.
The plant will add about 600 workers to its current 7,800. It will also become more productive at a time when GM is looking for greater global efficiency.
The Astra is built at four European plants: Antwerp, Ellesmere Port and two in Germany.
As the Antwerp plant expands, it is also attempting to become leaner by outsourcing more of its in-house work.
This year, Opel turned over some of its Astra component handling and assembly work to Katoan Natie NV, a Belgian transportation and logistics company.
Katoan is a warehouse and materials handling operation for the Opel plant, delivering door panels, bumpers and other large components on a just-in-time basis.
Katoan oversees a warehouse of stored parts, enabling Opel to cut about 15 percent off its related costs.
In addition, Katoan now assembles and delivers cooling modules and gloveboxes. But the firm should not be regarded as a manufacturer, said Stefan de Vrieze, business manager for the company's automotive division.
'Our product is a service,' de Vrieze said. 'We're a service supplier, not a parts maker. The contract we have with Opel is to provide the assembly.'
Katoan workers turn out the gloveboxes 24 hours a day. The cooling module is assembled from parts made by Behr GmbH & Co. of Germany, Valeo SA of France and Delphi's Harrison Thermal Systems Division of Lockport, New York.
Katoan negotiated for five years with Opel before taking over the work.