Reports that General Motors Europe's Vauxhall is offering a 15-year security period as an offset to necessary job cuts at its Ellesmere Port Astra factory are mixing two issues, according to a spokesman.

Business affairs manager David Crundwell declined to be drawn on details of current discussions between the car manufacturer and its unions but stressed the issue of which plants get to build future generations of Astra is distinct from the current need to "balance capacity with demand" for the Astra.

The model, acclaimed at launch in both Europe and the UK a couple of years ago, is now well into its life and demand is tapering off, as is normal with any car model, Crundwell noted.

The Times reported on Wednesday that GM was expected to argue that possible job cuts at its Ellesmere Port plant are necessary to secure the factory's future over the next 15 years because, if it wins the current contract, it would also be in line to build the next generation of Astras.

This is because the replacement Astra is expected to be radically different from the last one, but form the basis of its own future replacement. Therefore, the deal is likely to provide 15 years of work, rather than the usual six or seven years provided by a new model, the paper said.

Crundwell said he understood how the paper could have reached that conclusion but said he was not the source of the information and declined to discuss it in detail. He would also not confirm union-sourced reports of GM wanting to axe a shift, or about 1,000 workers, saying discussions were ongoing with no conclusion yet reached.

He could not give a timescale for any announcement concerning Ellesmere Port, saying only that Vauxhall would like to end the uncertainty for those likely to be affected as soon as possible.

Crundwell did not dispute earlier media suggestions that General Motors Europe would not decide on which plants would build the next Astra until mid-2007.

Graeme Roberts