Opel's top union leader Klaus Franz reacted angrily after parent General Motors Co. said it may consider plant closures and further job cuts in Europe to stem losses in the region.
Announcing GM's third-quarter results on Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said nothing was "off the table" in restructuring GM's European operations, including closing plants.
Franz said he was "astonished" by Amman's remarks, saying GM's current labor deal in Europe barred factory closures and job cuts through to 2014.
"Opel's chief Karl-Friedrich Stracke has said Opel's European restructuring has been successfully completed. GM's board of directors has accepted a contract that excludes job cuts and factory closures until December 21, 2014," Franz told Reuters.
GM, which gets about 17 percent of sales in Europe, said on Wednesday it had reduced its European loss to $292 million from $559 million in the third quarter of 2010.
The automaker had expected to break even in Europe this year before restructuring costs, a level it achieved through the first nine months, but on Wednesday the company backed away from its full-year breakeven target due to deteriorating economic conditions.
"Our assumption is that the market is not going to improve materially from where we are," Amman told analysts. "That implies that we need to further reduce the break-even point."
He added: "We've got good product and are well positioned in the marketplace. It's about getting paid for that product."
Higher unit sales
GM sold 407,000 vehicles in its European markets during the third quarter, up from 389,000 the year before. Opel/Vauxhall sales grew to 279,000 from 273,000. Chevrolet's European sales increased to 127,000 from 115,000.
GM CEO Dan Akerson said the results in Europe were "not sustainable and not acceptable."
GM has already cut 8,000 jobs in Europe in the past two years to reduce its European workforce to 40,000. The company also shuttered a plant in Antwerp, Belgium.
German, UK plants at risk
The company's car factories in Bochum and Eisenach, Germany, and Ellesmere Port, England, have been put forward as closure candidates during previous cost-cutting proposals.
Stracke told the Automobilwoche annual conference in Berlin earlier this month that he expects a significant shrinking of the market in Europe next year.
Opel expects sales to slow in countries hit by austerity measures, including the UK, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
Analysts doubt that GM will be able to make its European operations profitable soon. Juergen Pieper from Bankhaus Metzler said Opel's losses are more likely to worsen. "Every year Opel's existence will come under scrutiny," he said.
Opel labor unions are pressing GM to improve capacity use by shifting more production to Europe.
Unions want the next Agila to be built in in Gliwice, Poland, Franz told Automotive News Europe last month. GM plans to shift Agila production from Hungary to Korea.