(Rewrites throughout, adds union chief’s comment, background)
BRATISLAVA, April 17 (Reuters) - Volkswagen’s Slovak unit pledged on Wednesday to increase efficiency by 30 percent by 2020 to get ahead of the company-wide savings drive as it seeks to raise its competitiveness within the group.
The country’s biggest car plant and largest private sector employer has seen investment of 2.8 billion euros ($3.16 billion) since 2010 but its focus on SUVs leaves it vulnerable to an EU drive to cut CO2 emissions and VW’s aim to launch almost 70 new electric models by 2028.
Bratislava makes electric versions of the Volkswagen up!, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo but no plans have yet been made for models built on VW’s electric vehicle platform.
The plant, which made 408,208 cars last year mostly for the Chinese, U.S. and German markets, is in the running to produce several new models, VW Slovak Chief Executive Oliver Grunberg told a news conference. “To put Slovakia on the forefront of the company’s factories, we aim to increase efficiency by 30 percent already in 2019-2020, five years earlier than the company-wide target,” he said.
The plans include reduction of its 14,800 staff by 3,000 this year and slower wage growth.
“We need (unions) to contribute to raising VW’s competitiveness, perhaps not take two steps ahead but half a step instead,” Grunberg said. “We expect slower wage growth.”
Workers at the factory went on strike two years ago over pay. VW Slovakia agreed then to hike wages by 4.7 percent from June 2017, followed by a 4.7 percent rise in January 2018 and 4.1 percent from last November.
“We will prefer guarantees of job stability over wage growth in the ongoing round of collective bargaining,” VW union chief Zoroslav Smolinsky told Reuters on Wednesday. ($1 = 0.8850 euros) (Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, editing by Louise Heavens)