By Christiaan Hetzner
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - General Motors Co's Opel unit came a major step nearer to closing its Bochum plant in Germany, telling the roughly 3,000 workers it had not changed its mind about ending vehicle production in 2016.
Opel said it had made rigorous efforts to rescue car manufacturing at the plant but these had come to nothing. "The main reasons are the dramatic declines in the European car market and the enormous overcapacity in the entire European auto industry," it said in a statement.
Although the crisis in Europe's auto industry has already prompted Ford and Peugeot to announce this year plans to each close a passenger car plant, Bochum would be the first to close in Germany in decades.
Opel interim Chief Executive Thomas Sedran told a meeting of Bochum's workforce at the RuhrCongress convention centre on Monday that management saw no alternative to ending car making.
The planned measures at Bochum, coinciding with the end of the lifecycle of the Zafira Tourer MPV model, were first announced in mid-June, when management and unions agreed to negotiations over Opel's German operations that employ 20,800.
Some jobs will still be saved at the site.
"We have the clear intention to secure a significant number of Opel jobs (in Bochum), in the warehouse and possibly in component manufacturing," said GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky in the statement.
About 430 people are employed in Bochum's warehousing operations in a joint venture with partner CAT Logistics, now called Neovia Logistics Services and minority owned by Caterpillar .
An Opel spokesman at the brand's headquarters in Ruesselsheim said this number could grow to 600 or more as a result of negotiations.
A drop in demand for the Zafira Tourer is already hurting Bochum, which is in talks with its workers to stop the assembly line for 10 days in January and cut production by about half.
Next year could also see the loss of the night shift completely, according to the local works council.
Opel's top labour leader Wolfgang Schaefer-Klug said the announcement by Sedran did not mean the closure was definite.
"They just told the workforce in Bochum what the initial starting point of the negotiations is," he told Reuters. "From my point of view, there is nothing new." (Editing by David Holmes)