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General Motors European chief has said the company would not close any factories on this side of the Atlantic “unless an asteroid hits the earth”.

In an interview with an auto trade paper, GM Europe president Carl-Peter Forster said no factory closures were planned despite the economic downturn which had seen GME record a loss of GBP700m before tax during the third quarter.

Forster told the paper: “If the world stops tomorrow, no cars are sold and an asteroid hits the earth and it is dark for the next 10 years. That is the environment where we would have to consider plant shut-downs.”

GM’s European operations have nonetheless been told to shave almost GBP500 million from their costs and Forster said he would be speaking to worker representatives to find ways to cut production without further temporary shut-downs.

GME temporarily idled nearly all of its European factories during October to cut production by 40,000 vehicles.

Last week in the USA, GM said it was weeks, not months, from running out of cash having ended the third quarter with about GBP8.5bn in cash. It needs at least GBP7bn to GBP9bn to operate and pay bills and is burning cash at a rate of more than GBP1.3bn a month.