The Automotive Industry by Dick Suter
Firing on all cylinders
It comes as something of a surprise to some to discover that Belgium assembles more cars per capita Mthan any other country in the world. In fact, more cars than 1,000,000 vehicles per year are assembled here, the vast majority being passenger cars whilst trucks, buses and coaches account for more than 100,000 of the total.
In the early years of car production, Belgium created complete vehicles, such as the FN and Minerva, but assembly has been the main activity since the early '20s., with drivetrains imported from specialist engine and transmission plants in other countries. In 1924, General Motors (called Opel Belgium since 1994), the world's largest vehicle manufacturer, commenced operations in Amtwerp. Initially it assembled Chevrolets but it now focuses on the Opel Astra model. Today, Antwerp is one of GM's five major production sites in Europe.
Ford, number two world-wide, has recently rationalised its European operations. The Genk plant figures strongly, with a high annual assembly centre for the Mondeo model and almost 97% of its production is exported.
Volkswagen assembles WV Golf and Seat models sharing the same platform, at its Brussels plant. The Volvo operation at Ghent is responsible for approximately 30% of its truck and 40% of its car assembly. Van Hool and Jonckeere are the two principal coach and bus builders, with exports accounting for the majority of production. And DAF's plant at Westerlo produces axles and cabins for the company's range of mid to heavyweight trucks.
Toyota Motor Europe Marketing & Engineering in Brussels is the European headquarters for Japan's largest and world's third largest vehicle producer. Its after-sales service division, including the training facility, is at nearby Zaventem and its parts operation is located at Diest.
D'leteren, founded in 1805, is the largest family controlled company in Belgium. It made horse-drawn carraigaes and later built bodies on such classic cars as Mercedes-Benz and Bentley. It also built the cabriolet body on the Porsche 356 in the late '50s and earlyu '60s. Today, apart from being the majority shareholder in a car rental company, it is Belgium's largest vehicle importer/distributor. Marketing Volkswagen Beetles since 1948, it has added other VW-owned brands, including Audi, Skoda, Seat and Bentley to its portfolio. It's also the importer of Porsche cars.
Behermann, importer for saab and Mazda, and Moorkens - Mitsubishi's importer - are two other major players. Car manufacturers BMW DaimlerChrysler, Fiat Group (Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia), Jaguar, Nissan, Peugot and Renault have their own importer/distributor networks. Opel Belgium also handles the importation and distribution of other GM brands including Cadillac and Chevrolet. And Garage Francorchamps is the place to visit if you're interested in purchasing a Ferrari. Gillet Automobiles, a specilalised sports car manufactuer based at Namur-Gembloux, pproduces the unusual and stylish Alfa Romeo powered Vertigo.
The sizeable automotive components business is another significant employer and exporter. Products manufactured here include car windows and windscreens, shock aborbers, spark plugs, wiper products and the honeycombs for catalytic convertors.
Vehicle assembly and automotive components operations, plus vehicle dealerships give employment to more than 115,000 people whilst another 100,000 + work in 'automotive jobs' which are related. These include the general transport sector with its thouands of truck and bus drivers and those who work in services stations, motor inspection, repair and breakdown services.
©Dick Suter - August 2000
Original article appearing in "Internationals in Belgium" Dick Suter was an editor of the magazine and contributor and Ginny Suter was a regular contributor in the late 1990's and 2000's - The magazine had a circulation of 10,000 Please note that this article was first published many years ago and telephone and fax numbers are likely to be out of date and email addresses have been removed.
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives