Adam Opel AG

What am I doing visiting a subsidiary of General Motors? Opel is Europe's third largest carmaker and with over $16 billion in revenues and 44,000 employees it isn't exactly small potatoes.

Russelsheim (population 56,000) lies about 15 miles southeast of Frankfurt and it's here where Opel has its head office and major plant. How big a plant are we talking about? Try 23,000 employees.

Built in 1997, the six-story, aluminum-clad administration building is easily more than a block long and is home to 1,200 workers. I try walking into the place but find the doors closed. I try walking around the building to another set of doors but find them also closed. I see employees walking in but they swipe a card that opens the doors. Looking through the glass doors I can see a reception area and it's a too far away to grab someone's attention. I spot a buzzer near the door and give it a push. Evidently some person who's unseen to me buzzes the door open. It's not a very welcoming setup.

A gigantic 6-story atrium running the length of the building greets one's eyes upon entering and it's quite an impressive sight. However, almost immediately the stench of tobacco is evident in the air. How can this happen in such a massive open area? I quickly spot the culprits. Each of the upper levels have catwalk-like floors out to the atrium (reminds me of the catwalks you see in prison movies). I count at least 18 people standing about outside their offices on the catwalk. What are they doing? Smoking, including one puffing merrily away on a smelly cigar. Jeez, I can't believe it, here's this grandiose atrium and visitors, whether they like it or not, get welcomed by the stench of tobacco in the air.

Of course the first thing I do when meeting Andreas Kroemer, Public Affairs Manager-Mobility and Environmental Communications, is ask him why people are standing outside their offices smoking. "There's no smoking in offices", answers Kroemer. Jeez, why don't they send them outside?

This new building has something, which was popular in big buildings back in the 1960's: escalators. Outside, four new cars are displayed around a small pond. Inside, two new Opel cars strut their stuff, a Zafira station wagon and an Omega. A bust of Adam Opel (1837-1895) keeps visitors company in the waiting area. Visitors can sit in bright yellow chairs with the 1950's look or on black leather couches scattered about. There's also a 1/3 scale model of the 1899 Opel patent motorcar.

We go through the questions sitting in the lobby and that's all I get to see here. I can't see CEO Robert Hendry's top floor middle office because he's getting ready for tomorrow's release of annual figures. I ask, "How come Opel releases annual figures, I thought you were part of General Motors?" As Kroemer explains, Opel is a big employer in Germany and they want to keep employees, media and investors informed on how they're doing. General Motors bought Opel in 1929.

There's one cafeteria, it's 12 miles to the airport, an eight minute walk to downtown Russelsheim and employees get up to 18% off on the purchase of a new car-though they have to pay tax on it.

Sensing I'm a little disappointed in seeing nothing but the lobby, Kroemer invites me for a walk across the street to a new building housing a brand spanking new Opel attraction called, Opel Live. It's part multi-media attraction mixed in with hands-on exhibits and includes a tour of the production line in the adjacent plant. Andrea Hahnle, Marketing Manager-Opel Live, gives me a quick tour of the place. On a scale of 1-10 I'd give it a 3. Boy, I can't believe they're charging people for the experience.