Munich In public, Opel boss Michael Lohscheller likes to mimic the optimist. The brand with the lightning bolt has developed into the “efficiency world champion” and is weatherproof, he rejoiced in the autumn. The upcoming merger of the French parent company Peugeot (PSA) myth Fiat Chrysler (FCA) to become the fourth largest automaker in the world in the first quarter of 2021 therefore also offers enormous opportunities for the Rüsselsheim-based company.
“A large corporation is economically stronger in such tough competition. That will also help Opel, ”Lohscheller emphasized in mid-October. The manager referred all fears that his company as the smallest partner in the 14-brand colossus named Stellantis could be crushed into the realm of myth. Internally, however, Lohscheller recently hit a slightly different note.
At a digital company meeting on December 9th, he emphasized how great the competition within the Stellantis group would be in the future. You have to “protect” Opel as a brand and ensure that enough investment flows into Germany, said Lohscheller, according to participants. And the best brand protection apparently offers lower costs.
In any case, Lohscheller is increasing the pace of cutting 2100 jobs by 2021 and wants to define new so-called “focus areas” in Rüsselsheim before the closing of the mega merger, according to corporate circles. Specifically, the manager wants to cut dozens of positions in Process & Manufacturing Engineering (PME), for example.
Opel explained: “There are currently discussions about assigning one or the other further department to the focus areas in order to be able to offer the employees who work there expanded offers as part of the volunteer programs. But there are no decisions. “
Several departments are on the hit list
If the personnel cuts have so far mainly affected specialists and administrative employees, the focus is now on engineers. The reason for this is the foreseeable excess capacities in development at Stellantis. Both PSA and FCA each bring a good 18,000 engineers into the network. Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, Head of the Center of Automotive Research (CAR), considers “at least one third” of the 36,000 positions to be obsolete.
The Opel development center ITEZ in Rüsselsheim is particularly under pressure. On the one hand because of the comparatively high wage costs in Germany. On the other hand, because Fiat has more know-how in the area of light commercial vehicles, for example, and Opel could take over the group-wide development competence here. The same applies to the certification of vehicles for the US market. “In the end there is hardly more than a design department left,” Dudenhöffer believes.
One thing is clear: the more than 4,500 employees in the ITEZ are facing hard times. Short-time work is already being carried out on a large scale. There is actually no shortage of projects. “People are completely overworked, across all levels,” states one manager. The mood is bad. Hardly anyone understands the ongoing downsizing.
Nevertheless, the Opel management wants to announce new focus areas. Anyone who works in one of these departments knows: He’s on the hit list. In the past few months, hundreds of employees in prototype construction, parts storage, toolmaking, design and the engineering workshops were advised to leave the group as soon as possible through a severance payment, partial retirement, early retirement or a transfer company.
Those who shy away risk being kicked out. In principle, Opel employees in Germany are protected from redundancies for operational reasons until mid-2025, but the agreement contains an emergency clause. If sales of cars and light commercial vehicles in Europe slide below the 15 million mark, the agreement can be terminated.
Opel boss Lohscheller threatens to make use of it. He sees the conditions for this as fulfilled, sales in the EU should be well below 15 million vehicles in 2020. In Rüsselsheim, however, there are still hopes to be able to noticeably reduce the number of staff through voluntary departures. Of course, it is important to management that the employees sign a termination agreement as quickly as possible. Before the merger with Stellantis, it is still important to polish up your own balance sheet.
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