Workers at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory have a new boss. Phil Robinson met Tony Francavilla as the company emerges from the uncertainty of General Motors’ bankruptcy and found out about the plant’s plans for the future.

THERE could not be a more challenging time to take over the hot seat in Cheshire.

Vauxhall and its German sister company are fighting their way back to profitability in the wake of General Motors’ high-profile bankruptcy.

But workers are excited about the cars they are already making – and those soon to make it on to the production line.

That is the positive message from Tony Francavilla, who has just taken over as director of the plant, which employs hundreds of people from Chester, Wrexham and Flintshire.

Canadian-born Mr Francavilla comes to Ellesmere Port after having been managing director for General Motors in Poland and boss of the Gliwice factory since 2008.

Untouched by the cuts that have affected other parts of what used to be General Motors’ European operation, the Port plant is now building the award-winning sixth generation Astra, a car so successful since its launch last autumn that 150,000 cars have been sold to date.

A third shift will be introduced to meet rising demand midway through next year.

And just over a week ago came the news that Ellesmere Port has been selected over all other Vauxhall/Opel plants to produce the next generation Astra from 2015.

While that development is in the future, more immediate is the plant’s preparation to build the estate or station wagon version of the current Astra, known as the Sports Tourer.

Due to hit showrooms from next January, up to now no motoring journalist has set eyes on it. But on the day the Leader was invited to meet Mr Francavilla, one of the prototype models was at the factory.

Designed to be one of the most stylish estates on the road, it is one of the things Mr Francavilla says is making the Ellesmere Port team excited.

He said: “When you are building a product that is exciting you can feel it in the workforce – and the Sports Tourer is certainly that.

“We are due to begin producing it later this year, with the third shift being introduced to meet expected demand for this and the five-door hatchback Astra midway through next year.

“I drove the Sports Tourer when I was still in Poland and I think it is a great product.

“My children, who are nine and 11 years old, wouldn’t normally go for a station wagon but they loved this one.

“It has all the good features of the five-door hatchback plus quite a few others.”

Mr Francavilla said while there was not too much physical difference between the plant he used to run in Poland and Ellesmere Port, what he had noticed in the Port was the high morale of the workforce.

He said: “They have been through some tough times with the uncertainty whether GM was going to sell the company to someone else.

“Now we have a good regeneration plan for Europe but we need to keep investing in the business as we have been. That’s why we are coming out of the recession as well as we are.

“Even while the discussions were going on with potential buyers of the business the investment was still going on.

“We kept our focus on what really matters and that is to build great vehicles.

“The things we have been working on are now paying dividends.”