The future of Vauxhall's two UK plants is looking more secure, according to Vauxhall managing director Bill Parfitt.

At Luton as the company is looking to build new van models and a long-term replacement for the current Vivaro at the factory, while Parfitt is hopefull the Ampera 'range-extender' will be built at Ellesmere Port.

Parfitt said GM was looking at moving the replacement for the Combo van from Spain to Luton, which is the only dedicated light commercial vehicle plant in the Opel-Vauxhall manufacturing network. And this will help guarantee the plant's viability beyond 2013, when the current deal to build Renault-designed Vivaro panel van runs out.

Under the terms of this arrangement, Renault has to guarantee to source the mechanically identical Trafic van from Luton until the end of the contract. But Renault also builds the same vehicles at the Nissan factory in Barcelona, and given the current depressed state of the European LCV market, it could easily supply its needs from this plant. "I suspect that if Renault could pull out of Luton now, they would - but they can't," said Parfitt.

Whether Renault would continue its van alliance with GM is uncertain. Renault has also said it would reconfigure its Sandouville plant in northern France to build vans. This plant currently builds Laguna saloon and Espace MPV, and it has been suggested that the next-generation Trafic and Espace would share a platform.

Meanwhile Parfitt said Vauxhall was in talks with "one or two other potential partners" for vans - and it was not impossible that GM might be able to develop its own van. Parfitt said GM wanted to stay in the European van sector - before the economic crash, Vauxhall-Opel sold around 250,000 vans in Europe including 50,000 in the UK.

GM this week launched a consultation period between unions and local GM management over the future of Luton. Under the current plan, Luton's headcount would be cut by 354 employees "to right-size the business in line with the 2010 forecast production volume", GM said in a statement.

At Ellesmere Port, a move to three-shift working was announced this week. This would take Astra output up to 185,000 units a year - but that would still leave room for the Ampera, Parfitt said. Ampera is due to go into production in late 2011, with first-year output scheduled to be 16,000 cars.

"Ellesmere Port capacity is more than 200,000, so we could take Ampera - and we'd really like to build it in the UK," said Parfitt. Volume depends on pricing - and the car, which combines a 1.4-litre gasoline 'generator' engine with an electric drivetrain, will be priced above the similarly-sized Astra, he added. The car is mechanically the same as the Chevrolet Volt, which will go ion sale in the US next year. Left-hand drive European versions will follow before the end of 2011, with RHD versions in early 2012.