In April this year, the production line at the Opel plant close to Zaragoza delivered its 13 millionth car since the facility opened in 1982. Five generations of the Corsa, Kadett, Astra, Tigra and Combo have been produced at Zaragoza, as have two generations of the Meriva and Mokka. The milestone car was a Crossland X, the first vehicle made at the plant to be based on the efficient modular platform from Groupe PSA, the French car maker that acquired Opel from General Motors in August 2017.
Opel says the new Corsa will be produced exclusively at the Zaragoza plant from 2019, with an electrified version joining a year later.
The Zaragoza plant produced 382,000 cars in 2017, but capacity is expected to rise to more than 400,000 in 2018 after management agreed a new agreement with trade unions that will result in competitive improvements.
“Groupe PSA is betting very hard
on the electrification of cars,” says Antonio Cobo, general manager of Opel in Spain. “New low emission standards in Europe are driving this, but there is also huge demand among young people for electric cars.”
Mr Cobo says that one of the main advantages of being based in Aragon is the staff. “People make the difference, they are more important than infrastructure,” he says. “Their behaviour, mindset, education. Here in Aragon there are good people and very good professionals.”
A large proportion of the cars produced at the Zaragoza plant are destined for the UK and German markets. Aragon’s proximity to the Spanish ports of Bilbao and Pasajes is vital for exports. However, north Africa is becoming an increasingly important market for Opel cars and Zaragoza’s location close to the ports of Valencia and Barcelona is essential for accessing those markets.
About 25,000 people are employed directly by the car manufacturing industry in Aragon, according to the Automotive Cluster of Aragon (CAAR by its initials in Spanish). The cluster has 73 members but there are more than 200 companies involved in all aspects of car and car parts manufacturing located in the region.
“Aragon is one of the main locations in Europe for the manufacture of cars and car parts,” says CAAR manager David Romeral. “The cluster has three principal pillars: innovation, training and business development. Many SMEs do not have enough time for R&D, so they come to us and we help to speed up their innovation process.”
The logistical choice
The automotive sector is one of three key industries in Aragon, the other two being logistics and agribusiness.
The Aragon Logistics Platform represents a global logistics offer of infrastructure, training, research and services. The platform’s main logistics parks are Plaza, which lies 10 kilometres south-east of Zaragoza; PLHUS, the logistics platform based at the city of Huesca, 75 kilometres to the north-west of Zaragoza; and Platea, the logistics and industrial park at Teruel, 170 kilometres south of Zaragoza.
Inditex, the Spanish clothing company that owns the Zara brand, has one of its most important distribution centres located at Plaza. The 200,000-square-metre facility has 1200 staff and in 2016 distributed 324 million garments to 2000 stores around the world. Some 60% of the merchandise is transported by road and 40% by air.
“Zaragoza has a big airport but it is mostly for cargo,” says Francisco de la Fuente, general manager at Aragon Logistics Platform. “Only very high-value-added goods are transported by air. It is one of the main ways to transport electronic goods, for example, as people like to receive those items quickly. It is more efficient for stores not to stock every product but to bring them in from the distribution centres when necessary.”
Aragon benefits from Zaragoza Maritime Terminal (tmZ), a type of inland port connected to the coast by rail. It handles more than 350,000 20-foot equivalent units of containers a year, about 80% of which subsequently pass through the port of Barcelona. It handled a total of 2428 trains last year, more than double the 1094 recorded in 2011.
“Customs procedures take place in the rail terminal rather than at the port,” says tmZ general manager Ramón Ade. “That really speeds things up, as the ports can be a bottleneck.”
About 74% of the merchandise that passes through the terminal relates to general cargo, including car parts and clothing. The remaining 26% is accounted for by food products and animal feed, reflecting the significance of agribusiness to the region. Fresh food moved in refrigerated containers is one of the main drivers of the growth in railway transportation.
Lacasa, the Spanish chocolates and nougats producer, has been based in the town of Jaca in the Pyrenees since 1852. It has four factories in Spain, including two in Aragon, and plans to open a fifth in France. The family-owned business has an annual revenue of €142m.
“We are one of only six independent chocolate makers left in Europe,” says general manager Fernando Lacasa. “I think the advantage of Aragon is that it is a sparsely populated region. There are no problems here, no social problems, no political problems.”
Bodegas Aragonesas is a medium-sized winery located in the town of Fuendejalón, 55 kilometres to the west of Zaragoza, which produces 10.6 million bottles of wine a year. It is 40% owned by the Aragon regional government and has a total of 3700 hectares of vineyards; it produces wine mostly from the grenache grape.
“Our main markets include the UK, Russia, the US and Germany,” says export manager Sonia Castellot. “However, China is becoming more and more important for us. We are seeing the rise of the middle class in that country and that market has huge potential.”
Countries and regions from all over the world are seeking to diversify their economies. Given its wide array of areas of expertise, Aragon seems to be one step ahead of the game.