General Motors has told a news agency no final decision had been made on whether to scale back production at its Ellesmere Port plant in England but it was planning for an expected slowdown in sales of the Astra model the plant builds.

Union sources and press reports had told Reuters GM was considering axing a third shift at the plant in northwest England, triggering 1,000 job losses.

Reuters noted these job losses would follow last month's decision by PSA Peugeot Citroen to close its Ryton plant, eliminating 2,300 jobs, and the collapse of British carmaker MG Rover last year (about 6,500 jobs lost).

This would also follow thousands of job losses in the UK outside the motor industry, as major insurance companies, cable phone firms and mobile phone service providers have all announced cuts or outsourcing abroad in the last few weeks.

A GM Europe spokesman based in Zurich told Reuters no final decision had been made, and the company was looking at capacity issues at all its Astra plants.

"At this point there is no final decision, but we do need to look forward into the future," the spokesman reportedly said. "Astra production has wildly exceeded expectations in its first couple of years, and we just don't expect it to continue to be at that level of market demand as it goes through its product life cycle."

An Opel spokesman in Germany added that the third shift at all Astra plants was under review - Antwerp, Belgium and Bochum, Germany also make the cars.
"This is being discussed at the moment. The third shift at Astra plants is under discussion ... all Astra plants are potentially affected," the spokesman told Reuters.

Reuters noted that the Astra is GM's best-selling vehicle in Europe, with around 534,000 units sold last year and that GM Europe is in the process of cutting 12,000 jobs - nearly a fifth of the workforce - to slash its fixed costs.

Union sources told the news agency they expected jobs would go at the Ellesmere Port plant, but talks with the company were at an early stage.

Reuters added that cutting Astra production jobs now is a separate matter from deciding which GM plants will get to build the next generation Astra for launch in 2010 - that will not be decided until next year.