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Ellesmere Port's bid to build Ampera hits snags

Published: 09 October 2009

Prime minister Gordon Brown’s personal crusade to get Vauxhall's version of the Chevrolet Volt petrol-electric plug-in hybrid – the Ampera – built in Britain's Ellesmere Port factory in 2012 is a dream delayed, CAR can disclose today.

News that the UK Astra plant is the best in Europe, that the Astra's Delta platform will underpin the Ampera, and that Volt will be on US sale from 2010 had been taken to mean that Vauxhall would be churning out the cars in the north west within three years.

But the prospect of an electric car industry growing up around the run-down Merseyside manufacturing site is not imminent, CAR has learned.

'No Ampera to be built in Europe before 2015'

Vauxhall insiders have made it clear that the car to be known as the Vauxhall/Opel Ampera in Europe will be an import from the US for at least five years. One senior planner told us: 'The US will be the sole source of Amperas until at least 2015.'

Bob Lutz, GM's former product supremo who recently came out of retirement as a PR, said that the low value of the dollar made the US an ideal site for the manufacturing of export cars. And with forecast sticker prices of the range-extender electric car standing at a scary £35,000+, every price saving is vital to its marketability.

The European market also needs time to get its electricity recharge infrastructure in place before it is worth making cars onshore in volume, GM high-ups point out.

Not good news for Magna, then...

Nope. Confirmation of the late start for electric cars at Ellesmere Port raises fresh concerns about its status after the change of ownership from GM to the Canadian components company, Magna.

Magna has to make instant economies within the persistently unprofitable General Motors Europe which is being sold as part of GM’s escape from bankruptcy.

Though Ellesmere Port is the only British-based car factory for GME, and Britain is the group’s biggest single market, it will be scrutinised by Magna for closure to cut the number of unprofitable plants in the group and create greater volume for those that remain.

Magna wants at least 10,000 jobs to go. If the factory had already won the manufacturing contract for the world’s first long-distance 'all-electric' family car, its position would have been that much safer.

Magna is now locked in talks with business secretary Lord Mandelson trying to get UK approval for its takeover of Vauxhall. The business minister is insisting that Magna guarantees Ellesmere Port’s volumes – knowing full well that once the award-winning plant’s volume is allowed to drop it will become a candidate for closure.
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