GLIWICE, Poland - Adam Opel AG's new plant here will be the first production base for the minicar that the General Motors subsidiary plans to produce with Japan's Suzuki Motor Co.
The sub-Corsa model, an Opel-badged version of the Wagon R replacement, which also will be built at Suzuki's plant in Hungary, will go on line at the Gliwice plant in 2000, taking annual production up to 150,000 vehicles a year.
Initially, the plant will produce the Astra Classic for central and eastern Europe. The model, which until now has been assembled from kits at GM's Warsaw plant, is the top-selling car in Poland.
Just over 3,000 Astra Classics will be built this year. That will increase to 42,000 in 1999 and to 70,000 by the time the new minicar goes on line.
The new plant gives GM a strong bridgehead into central and eastern European markets. The Warsaw plant now will start producing the Vectra.
Unlike Warsaw, Gliwice is a full assembly plant based on the Eisenach production model in Germany. It is one of the key plants in GM's globalization plan, which also includes plants under construction in China, Thailand and Brazil.
At $350 million, the Gliwice plant represents one of the largest foreign investments ever in Poland and will create around 2000 jobs.
'Our investment in Poland is a long-term one. It involves a broad region of central Europe through a network of suppliers and contractors, not only in Poland but also in the Czech and Slovak republics, Hungary, Germany and Austria,' GM chairman Jack Smith said at the plant's dedication in late October.
The Opel Polska plant was built in record time, taking just 22 months from the symbolic groundbreaking ceremony in October 1996.
The greenfield plant is integrated fully and includes press, body, paint and final-assembly shops. It was constructed on a concept that allows for easy and quick expansion depending on demand.
The decision to locate the plant in Gliwice, an industrial city with 220,000 people in Poland's southern region of Upper Silesia, was made because of the city's strategic position. It is at an intersection of international rail and road links from east to west and from south to north, with easy transport to regions ranging from Scandinavia to southeastern Europe, and from any part of western Europe to Ukraine and Russia.
The Gliwice Canal, a few hundred yards from the final-assembly shop, is a direct waterway link with the Baltic seaport of Szczecin. The site also is close to the important markets of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and eastern Germany.
In recent years, the Polish car market has been consistently one of the largest and strongest in Europe, with sales of around 500,000 vehicles a year.