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Opel Azambuja: Closure-threatened Plant

From Automotive Design and Production| June 27,2007

In 1963, both Ford and GM began operations in Azambuja, on the outskirts of Lisbon, in buildings that are just 100 ft. apart. Ford eventually closed up shop at a time when Opel was ready to expand.

The Azambuja plant is the sole production facility for the Combo, the kind of small two-box van that is ubiquitous in most of the world, but practically non-existent in North America. The "Cargo" version makes up 65% of production and is targeted at the business market, while the "Tour," which is fitted with seats in the rear and intended for families, accounts for the remainder. The Combo is built off of Opel's Corsa platform, but also shares many components with the Astra. Though Azambuja currently builds only the Combo, it has the flexibility to build the Corsa and the Corsa Van if needed.

In 2001, Opel invested 130 million euros to modernize the plant. It tripled the number of welding robots, installed a new conveyor system in assembly and built a waterborne paint shop. The latter made it the first Opel plant in Europe to utilize new application technology for metallic paint and underbody PVC insulation. This update increased the automation rate at Azambuja, but did not change the plant's overall goal, which is to stay agile by balancing human labor and robotics. Apfel says, "Line speed changes are the order of the day."

As a full-fledged member of GM's production network, Azambuja has instituted the Global Manufacturing System (GMS) and works with other production facilities in Europe to standardize best practices and solve individual problems. this community atmosphere is a big change from the fiefdoms of the past and gives GM a competitive advantage.

In February 2006, the General Motors European Works Council and the European Employee Forum (EEF), which is the trade union coordination group for General Motors Europe (GM Europe), expressed their opposition to a plan by GM Europe to relocate the production unit of its Combo plant in Azambuja(Opel Azambuja) to another factory abroad. The organizations demanded solutions to safeguard the production unit and the 1,200 jobs concerned.

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