Management and unions at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant are negotiating a significant overhaul of working practices, including adding a possible third shift, as part of the bid to stay open in the restructuring of GM Europe.
Improvements such as more flexible working practices and complex shift-patterns are understood to be on the table as Ellesmere digs deep to save its 2700 jobs.
The plan is also understood to include a significant increase in British-built content in the cars built at Ellesmere, which are hoped to increase from 10 per cent currently to 30 per cent in 2014 when anew Astra goes into production. A more favourable Pound/Euro exchange rate is said to be helping that plan.
The negotiations are said to being helped by the close working relationship between management and unions. Unite Union leader Tony Woodley started his career at Ellesmere Port.
A decision on the plant's future could come as soon as 'a month or so', according to one source.
Ellesmere will have to improve productivity to remain a step ahead of its other rivals as GM plans to trim its network of seven European plants down to five.
'GM really wants to get the factories working hard, to get the cars flowing through the plants, and we're confident we've got a plan to do that for the next Astra,' says a source.
Bidding for investment to bring the next-gen Astra to Merseyside is the key to the plant's survival.
The next-gen Astra is a re-skin of today's model, which means some of the tooling at the plant, which currently assembles around 180k Astras a year, won't need to be renewed at Ellesmere.Shifting production to a plant that doesn't currently make the Astra would require much more upheaval.
Adding a third shift would take Ellesmere's capacity to around 250k - the industry standard figure for a viable car plant. Concentrating Astra production into two plants is understood to be a major part of GM's agenda. Currently Astras are built in three plants - the UK, Germany and Poland.
Ellesmere is in competition with three German plants, two Spanish and a Polish plant for ashare of the next Astra investment.
Bochum, built in the early 1960s like Ellesmere, is battling for the Astra investment, as is low-cost Gliwice in Poland, while Eisenach, the former Trabant factory in east Germany, also a low cost plant, is said to have already secured the new Junior city car, guaranteeing its future.