Civic and business leaders last night called on French carmaker Peugeot to declare a stay of execution for its doomed Ryton plant.

They hope to win at least another year of life for the Coventry factory, where 2,300 jobs are set to disappear by 2007.

The calls were led by Councillor Ken Taylor, leader of the city council, who will seek talks with Peugeot following yesterday's announcement.

"Huge companies like Peugeot do not make decisions like this on the spur of the moment, but we hope to make them slow down their plans and maybe delay closing the plant to give people more of a chance to find other work," he said.

Coun Taylor was supported by Alan Durham, director of international trade and Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber, who said: "I think the decision to close the plant has been made and I don't think it is realistic to expect it to stay open in the long term.

"But one area that might be worth exploring is a year's delay if only to give the city more time to help the individuals and businesses that are being affected."

Jean Martin Folz, chief executive of Paris-based parent group PSA Peugeot Citroen, broke the news that production would end in 2007 to workers yesterday.

He said further investment could not be justified and that production would be wound down in two phases.

Of the two remaining shifts, one will close in July and the second will cease by mid-2007.

Fears have been growing for some time that Peugeot would not replace the 206 as Ryton's only model as production volumes ran down.

But many within the car industry had pencilled in 2008 as the likely date for closure.

Jon Goodman is director of corporate communications and external affairs at PSA's British HQ in London.

He told The Birmingham Post: "Despite the tremendous efforts and the incredible improvements in productivity and quality made at Ryton over the last two years, it remains the most expensive of all our plants throughout the world.

"It costs 415 euros (#286) more to manufacture a car at Ryton than anywhere else."

It would cost PSA in the order of #176 million to upgrade Ryton to the standard needed to accommodate a new model.

Even after that, the plant would still have had the highest production costs in Europe.

Mr Goodman said right-hand drive variants of the 206 would be made for the UK market at PSA factories in France.

"This is a hugely difficult time for all of our employees, but unfortunately we have looked at this from every angle and despite having invested 93 million euros (#64 million) at Ryton between 2002-05 we cannot keep it open.

"We are handling a difficult situation as best we can and we hope that by staggering the closure we can reduce the impact of these workers coming on to the West Midlands job market."

PSA would not say how much decommissioning Ryton would cost, but an analyst said the group would have to take a charge of less than #69 million.

Mr Goodman said Peugeot would continue to employ several thousand people in the UK at sites including its Coventry HQ.

Coun Taylor summed up reaction to the announcement, saying: "It is a major blow to the city of Coventry and for Peugeot employees of the plant.

"Although there has been uncertainty over the long term future of the Ryton plant for some time, this news has come as a shock to us all, and we are extremely concerned by both the decision itself and its timing.

"We are feeling let down; we knew the 206 wasn't going to last forever, but we always hoped they would bring another product here."

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