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Opel Fears GM?€™s Russia Reorganization

FRANKFURT — Opel workers demanded reassurances Friday that their European brand would not be disadvantaged at the expense of sister brand Chevrolet, after Opel lost responsibility for the Russian region to an Asian arm of General Motors.

GM transferred responsibility for Russia to GM International Operations, based in Shanghai, sparking fears that Opel could lose access to a key growth market, which almost overtook Germany by size in 2008, before collapsing last year.

Opel labor representatives will discuss GM's plans Monday at a meeting of the Opel steering committee.

"General Motors has not given any thought about what negative effects this decision could have on the negotiations of Opel/Vauxhall with the European governments, since Russia plays a decisive role as a market of the future," unions warned in a flyer to staff obtained by Reuters.

Opel workers will "demand a convincing plan for the Russian business of Opel/Vauxhall be presented [that entails] no restrictions to the market and a further expansion of the sales activities," works council members wrote.

A spokesman for Opel said the decision was made to consolidate key sales and manufacturing operations in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States under one managerial roof. The measure would not be to the detriment of Opel, he added.

Nonetheless German auto workers union IG Metall fears that German jobs could be threatened down the line and demanded that GM commit to expanding, rather than limiting, Opel's sales in the Russian market.

Jilted Opel suitor Magna, which had been planning a bid with Sberbank, had centered its growth plans for the German carmaker around the Russian market, before GM chose to retain the unit, rather than sell it.

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