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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 April 2006, 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK
Slovaks flock to Peugeot plant
by Rob Cameron
BBC correspondent in Trnava, Slovakia

The town of Trnava will be transformed by the Peugeot plant
The town of Trnava will be transformed by the Peugeot plant

While Coventry grieves over the departure of Peugeot, the town of Trnava in central Slovakia is being transformed by the presence of a huge Peugeot assembly plant.

The move is further evidence of the seemingly irrevocable shift of Europe's auto industry from west to east, and also seals Slovakia's reputation as its new car-making centre.

At Trnava's Technical School, teenage boys are being taught how to assemble passenger cars.

"I know how the auto industry works. They're here today, they might not be here in five years.
Martin Bacita, engineering student

There's little doubt where their working life will begin.

Push open the school's heavy wooden doors and venture inside, and the first sight that greets the visitor is a brand new Peugeot 207, parked incongruously at the foot of the stairs.

Peugeot training centre

To the left are corridors with peeling paintwork and faded school photos dating back to the 1960s.

Workers are eager to be trained in automotive assembly
Workers are eager to be trained in automotive assembly

To the right are the gleaming doors of the "Peugeot Training Centre".

The company is taking local recruitment so seriously, they've taken over an entire wing of the school.

At present it's open only to Peugeot employees.

From 2008, however, pupils at the school will begin passing through those doors, to learn the latest car assembly technology.

"My dream job is to be a racing driver - or a test driver," says 17-year-old student Martin.

"I'm thinking of going to Peugeot. But only as a test driver. I wouldn't do just anything."

His friend Juraj, originally from Kosice in east Slovakia, is still considering his future. "Originally I wanted to be an ice hockey player," he says. "But I'm not ruling out a job with Peugeot. I'm still a bit young to decide of course. But it could be good."

Greenfield site

Last week, Peugeot announced it was to close its car plant at Ryton near Coventry, in England, in 2007 - with the loss of 2,300 jobs.

In Slovakia, Peugeot have built a colossal, state-of-the-art assembly plant on a greenfield site on the outskirts of Trnava. Located on a newly built stretch of motorway 50 kilometres from the capital Bratislava, the setting is ideal.

Peugeot is training its workers at the local technical college
Peugeot is training its workers at the local technical college

The first Slovak-made Peugeot 207s will roll off the assembly line in the autumn.

When the plant reaches full strength, it will produce 450,000 cars each year. By 2010, says the company, 60% of all Peugeot 207s will be made in Trnava.

It's not hard to see why Peugeot are moving east. Slovakia's workforce is well-trained and highly motivated. The Slovak government has provided tax breaks worth millions of euros. Trnava provides good access to Peugeot's European markets.

But the real reason is simple economics. Despite record levels of foreign investment, Slovak wages still languish far below the European average:

Volkswagen, for example, builds cars in Bratislava - and pays its workers around a fifth of what they would earn in Germany.

European manufacturing centre

It's an equation which is rapidly turning Slovakia into the centre of the European car industry.

By the time Peugeot's Trnava plant is fully online, Slovakia will be making more cars per person than anywhere else in Europe.

With national unemployment running at 12 percent, Peugeot is having no trouble filling vacancies.

Two thousand people have already been recruited for the Trnava plant.

The company will employ a total of 3,500.

Many others will find work in local service industries. "It's a great possibility for the students here," says Renata Olexova, an English teacher at Trnava Technical School.

"They have a lot of work opportunities here and they can improve themselves. They can go abroad and meet a lot of people. It's a good chance for them."

No illusions

But while most of Trnava's 70,000 inhabitants welcome Peugeot's 350 million euro investment, they have no illusions about the fickleness of the global car industry.

"I know how the auto industry works," says Martin Bacita, an engineering student in his fourth year at Trnava University.

"That's the car industry. It moves from country to country. They're here today, they might not be here in five years," he added.

"But I'm young, and I can deal with it."

Globalisation produces winners and losers.

The breezy optimism of Trnava, tempered by a realistic view of global economics, is in stark contrast to the anger and bitterness now being felt in Coventry.

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