Mandy pledges to fight for Vauxhall Plant's future.
BUSINESS Secretary Lord Mandelson told bosses and staff at Ellesmere Port's Vauxhall plant it has a "great future."
He gave the reassurance during a tour of the plant, when he surprised officials by not only sitting in one of the 90 new Astra models produced ahead of its official launch later this year, but driving it around a small demonstration area.
Lord Mandelson declared it "a driver's car," adding: "I am a walking advertisement for this plant."
General Motors UK chairman and managing director Bill Parfitt, who hosted the tour, was also keen to impress their credentials to build GM's electric car for Europe, the Ampera, which could be on the roads by 2011.
It shares a similar design and the same production line as the new Astra.
GM plants in Germany and Poland could also build the Ampera, but Mr Parfitt said: "The floor plan here is the platform on which the Ampera will be built. You have to turn the question around the other way and ask, why wouldn't it be built here?" Ellesmere Port bosses raised the Ampera issue with Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a plant visit two years ago and guests revealed after yesterday's tour that Mr Mandelson said: "Gordon reminded me of that this mor ning."
If Ellesmere Port could clinch Ampera production alongside the successful Astra model it would virtually assure its long term survival under new owners.
Canadian parts maker Magna and Belgian industrial group RHJ International are seen as front runners to buy GM Europe and its Vauxhall and Opel brands.
They have both committed to retaining production in the UK and a winner in the bidding race could be announced as early as next week.
But Lord Mandelson said he and the government will be striking the best deal for Vauxhall in the ongoing talks.
The UK government could inject pounds 430m into a new-look GM Europe and he said after his tour yesterday: "It depends what we get back for Vauxhall and for Britain in return for tax payers' money.
"I have met both Magna and RHJ and where we come down will depend on the detail.
"We have an absolutely first rate plant here with high productivity.
"The workforce has moved a long way to cut costs. My job is to make sure that is well understood by both bidders."
He added: "Ellesmere Port not only has a glorious past but a very important and prosperous future as well. It has a great workforce, great productivity, great cars and a great future."
Ellesmere Port and Neston Labour MP Andrew Miller believes the plant's economic case is "unassailable."
And plant union convenor John Fetherstone praised Lord Mandelson, saying: "His first words to us were 'we have got shared goals."
"The commitment seems to be there from him and if it is from him it is from the gover nment."
PLEDGE: Business Secretary Lord Mandelson says he will try to safeguard the future of Vauxhall