The future of General Motors Europe’s Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port in northwest England will be decided this year and General Motors executives believe its prospects are brighter now than 12 months ago.

Vauxhall chairman Jon Browning, who is also head of GM’s sales and marketing operations in Europe, said: “We went through a lot of pain at the plant last year and that is paying dividends.

“I believe Ellesmere Port is now able to put forward a competitive proposal to build the next generation Astra.” The factory produces the current model but faces competition from GM plants worldwide to win the next generation due around 2010. Browning said a decision must be made this year in order to start putting in new investment and tooling.

The plant was reduced from three to two shifts last year. Browning added: “This has allowed us to get Ellesmere Port into a much more competitive position. I am delighted in the way management, unions and regional government have worked together on this.

“There is stiff competition from other GM facilities around the world but things look a lot better than they did a year ago.”

Ellesmere Port was built to make the HA Viva from the early 1960s and is now the sole survivor of a number of vehicle plants built at the time under a government move to provide work in deprived areas. It faces competition from Opel plants in Germany, and a Saab plant in Sweden, for the lucrative Astra deal.

That car line is GM’s crucial C-segment contender in Europe and is sold worldwide, having recently been added to the US Saturn range as a 2008 model.

Also making Browning smile at Geneva were Vauxhall sales in the UK which grew to 302,000 vehicles in 2006.

“We are particularly pleased because our sales to individual consumers were up 8% and that represents much better business for Vauxhall. We are consciously reducing the number of vehicles we sell into large fleets in order to make the business more profitable.”