The Government will do what it can to help Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant share production of the new Astra, new Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said in the Midlands yesterday .
He made the pledge during a visit to Toyota's UK manufacturing site at Burnaston, near Derby, where he saw watched production of the company's new Avensis model.
Speaking against the background of continuing talks between unions and Vauxhall's parent group, General Motors, Mr Darling said: "We've been in contact with both the company and unions at Ellesmere Port and talks are taking place there today.
"The Government is being kept fully informed and once we know what General Motors' position is, we can say something further.
"It's very important that if they can get the new model that was going to be built in one of the two General Motors plants, we can do what we can to help them win that."
Mr Darling, who took over the DTI brief from Alan Johnson in this month's cabinet reshuffle, was keen yesterday to talk up the prospects for car manufacturing in Britain following GM's threat to axe 1,000 at Ellesmere Port and Peugeot's decision to axe its plant at Ryton, near Coventry, next year.
He stressed that British plants, which produced 1.6 million vehicles last year, were competing in a "truly global" industry.
"The car industry, in common with many other industries, is facing many substantial pressures with economic development in other parts of the world and new models being developed," he said.
"The fact that here you have a new model being unveiled and the fact that this is a very successful company shows British manufacturing is successful. There's no reason why, provided we maintain productivity, we can't continue to build cars people want to buy, and the Government is ready to do what it can to help that process.
"Toyota has been extremely successful, although there is no doubt that parts of the car industry are experiencing difficulties.
"While there are very substantial difficulties being faced by some people, other parts of the industry are doing well and contribute to the success of British exports.
"We want to do everything we can to support the automotive industry because it is very important to this country.
"We know there will be changes taking place as economies develop and we stand ready to help."
Figures published by the DTI yesterday showed that car production in 2005, which last year almost matched levels last seen in the 1970s when the former giant plants at Dagenham (Ford), Luton (Vauxhall) and Longbridge (Austin) were in full swing, accounted for about 16 per cent of GDP.
The industry employs more than 220,000 people and contributes some #9.8 billion of added value a year to the economy. Investment in new plant and technology is running at about #1 billion a year.
In production terms, Britain is ranked fourth in Europe and ninth globally.
The new Toyota Avensis, produced exclusively at Burnaston, will be officially unveiled at the Madrid Motor Show on May 25.
Burnaston, which also produces the Corolla, produces 285,000 cars a year, 85 per cent of which are exported.