The head of Opel appears to be playing the jobs card in his pleas for government aid.

Salary cuts are already expected, Carl-Peter Forster told German newspaper Bild Zeitung, and "on top of that comes the elimination of hopefully no more than 3,500 posts," he said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). "That is just what we want to avoid," added.

GM's British unit Vauxhall yesterday rushed out a statement saying a Geneva show press conference had "highlighted" that Vauxhall "was a very strong and successful brand in the UK and there were no plans for it to be axed"after a TV news report said Forster had threatened the UK manufacturing operations at Ellesmere Port and Luton.

Forster had in fact said at the show GM would "consider closing plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton if it does not [get] extra cash" as there were not many options left open for the "very lean" UK operations.

"Obviously the next step would be the complete closure," he said, adding: "Obviously that's what we try and avoid. But if we don't get support from the government we will have to close down."

Forster told the TV channel he had received "positive signals" from the [UK] government regarding the prospect of financial aid and the British government said later it would discuss Vauxhall help once it saw the GM's European restructuring plans.

AFP noted that GM itself was also talking with German authorities on how to save Opel, which employs almost 26,000 workers, and is also speaking to the governments of Belgium, the UK and Spain, all home to GME factories.

Forster told Bild that "EUR3.3bn in loans or direct share holdings by 2014 are needed to save all these sites."

The UK government told Reuters it was "in regular contact" with GM and said British authorities had already helped the company by providing money for training and a grant [about two years ago] to secure the redesigned Astra for Ellesmere Port where production begins later this year.

European industry ministers are to discuss the crisis in the automotive industry at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday.