FRANKFURT --- PSA Group factories appear to be more productive than plants operated by the automaker's newly acquired Opel/Vauxhall business, PSA CEO Carlos Tavares said.
Tavares said he had recently visited Opel plants in Zaragoza, Spain, and Russelsheim, Germany, to benchmark them against PSA facilities.
"The gaps I have seen so far are quite big," Tavares told reporters at the Frankfurt auto show last week. "What I have seen so far is PSA is more productive and more efficient than the Opel sites," he said.
"I also expect to find situations where Opel will be better than PSA, so that PSA people can learn," Tavares said.
Opel/Vauxhall has six assembly plants in Europe. In addition to Russelsheim and Zaragoza, they are Ellesmere Port and Luton, England; Eisenach, Germany; and Gliwice, Poland. There are also powertrain facilities in Austria, Germany and Hungary.
The future of some of those facilities is unclear, because Tavares will need to have shared platforms and drivetrains in his newly enlarged company, with similar vehicles produced in the same factory to maximize synergies and minimize costs.
Under former owners, General Motors Europe, Opel's factories except Zaragoza had lower utilization rates at its plants last year than PSA's plants, according to an analysis by LMC Automotive. Of Opel's two largest plants, Zaragoza was at 78 percent capacity while Eisenach was at 65 percent, with Russelsheim at 51 percent of its capacity of vehicles.
PSA’s largest factories, in Vigo, Spain, and Sochaux, France, were at 78 percent and 83 percent, respectively. The group’s factories in Poissy and Mulhouse, France, were running at full capacity, LMC found.
PSA and Opel already share some production because of a 2012 agreement between PSA and GM to jointly develop four vehicles.
The first model, the Opel Crossland X subcompact crossover, was launched in June. It's built by Opel in Zaragoza with the upcoming Citroen C3 Aircross. The second is the Opel Grandland X compact crossover, produced by PSA in Sochaux alongside the Peugeot 3008. It will go on sale in the autumn.
The third is the successor to the Opel Combo light commercial vehicle that will come onto the market next year. The next Opel Corsa subcompact hatchback is being jointly developed and is due in 2019.
Tavares said when the four vehicles are all on the market, they are expected to make up 50 percent of all Opel sales.
Opel widened its losses in the second quarter to about $250 million from $210 million in the first quarter and is losing about 4 million euros ($4.74 million) every working day, Automobilwoche, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe, reported earlier this month.
In Frankfurt, Tavares did not provide any information on the extent of potential job cuts or factory closures at Opel. He said, however, that much of the job cuts had already been completed since Opel's existential crisis in 2009 when GM almost sold its European business to Canadian car parts manufacturer Magna International only to change its mind at the last minute.
Tavares' comments seemed to suggest that Opel's production plants may escape deep cuts for the time being. However, Opel unions are worried that hundreds of engineering jobs may be at risk.
Tavares said Opel currently employs about 3,000 engineers mainly for projects that are done solely for GM. This does not mean that all these valuable employees are no longer needed, he said. "With Opel, our development capacity has grown by 50 percent. We now have the great opportunity to use this development power."
Tavares praised Opel employees. He characterized the reactions from the teams at the Opel plants as “really healthy” and “very energizing.”
“They say, if they can do it, then we can do it,” Tavares said. “It's creating very positive tension.”