Stellantis seeks aid to overhaul U.K. plant to make EVs

Christoph Rauwald and Tara Patel
Bloomberg
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Stellantis NV is reviewing options for its Ellesmere Port car factory in England, including closing the site if it can’t reach a deal with the U.K. government on new investments.

The automaker is considering revamping the factory that employs about 1,000 people for production of fully electric cars, according to a person familiar with the matter. The move would reflect the U.K.’s planned combustion-engine ban and push to build up green industries.

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For the overhaul to go through, Stellantis is seeking commitments on the post-Brexit trade of auto parts including batteries, said the person, who asked not to be named because the talks are private.

The site, which makes Opel and Vauxhall cars, has emerged as an early test case for the U.K.’s carmaking prospects after the Brexit trade agreement reached in late December. Stellantis Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares had frozen spending due to uncertainty related to the country’s departure from the European Union. He also raised concerns last month about Brexit-related costs and bureaucracy as well as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 2030 ban of combustion-engine cars.

Stellantis hopes to reach a binding agreement on Ellesmere Port with the U.K. in the near future, Michael Lohscheller, who heads the group’s Opel and Vauxhall unit, told Bloomberg News.

“At this stage these discussions are productive but not conclusive,” Lohscheller said. While a lack of government support may require closing the factory, the carmaker expects authorities to “behave in the interest of the U.K. economy,” he said.

Lohscheller declined to comment on future production plans for the site near Liverpool. “We would disclose this in due time, but first we need the U.K. government support to make it happen,” he said.

Executives have met repeatedly with government and labor representatives in the past months to try to hammer out a deal that would keep Ellesmere Port running profitably once production of the current Opel Astra model is phased out.

The political stakes are high for the factory not to become the first major post-Brexit industrial casualty. Johnson is under pressure to prove that the U.K.’s departure from the EU won’t spell the demise of local manufacturing.

“The Ellesmere Port plant is a major employer and winding it down would have devastating consequences,” Ed Miliband, the Labour Party’s business spokesman, said Thursday in a statement. “The Government must not simply stand by, because doing so risks worsening the unemployment crisis.”

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