By RAPHAEL SATTER, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — General Motors' Vauxhall plant in northern England will build the company's top-selling Astra vehicles, the automaker said Thursday — a relief for U.K. politicians who had lobbied its American owner to keep the plant open.
The announcement comes after workers at the Ellesmere Port plant, near Liverpool, overwhelmingly backed a job deal which turned the factory into a 24-hour-a-day operation, a key cost-cutting measure pursued by parent company GM Europe.
GM Europe lost $700 million in 2011 and has been struggling to turn around its Opel and Vauxhall brands. It had been feared the company would close the Ellesmere Port facility in favor of consolidating production elsewhere — such as its headquarters in Ruesselsheim in Germany or Gliwice in Poland.
In a separate announcement, Opel said that the Ruesselsheim plant would switch to producing other models.
GM's announcement — which comes with a 125 million pound (nearly $200 million) investment and 700 extra jobs — is a break for leaders such as British Business Secretary Vince Cable, who fought to keep the British plant open.
Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking from the northern city of Manchester, called the decision "a fantastic vote of confidence."
"The U.K. government gave this its full backing. The unions supported the necessary changes. The workforce has responded magnificently. It is a British success story," he said.
Cable, who at one point traveled to the U.S. to plead the plant's case, told BBC television that no financial inducements were offered to General Motors Corp. to keep the U.K. facility open, saying the move underlined that Britain is "a good business environment for the motor industry."
Production of the new car is due to begin in 2015, with at least 160,000 vehicles scheduled to be produced every year.
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