The Midland automotive industry has been dealt another hammer blow as it emerged up to 300 jobs are to be axed at Jaguar and Land Rover.

The job losses, which are to come as part of a voluntary redundancy scheme between now and Christmas, could be followed by more in the New Year. Jaguar has always said it would match production to demand, but plummeting sales mean even more staff could be forced to go after the first set of voluntary redundancies are completed.

Ken McConomy, spokesman for Jaguar, declined to rule out more job losses in the future. He said: "We have set a target of around 300 voluntary separations by the end of this year and are confident of achieving that, but this is a voluntary programme so we must remain flexible as the year progresses.

"We are still in the process of implementing our restructuring at Jaguar and developing the roadmap at Solihull, as announced last year, but we have always said we would be prepared to take further action if it was necessary to keep our business on track."

Jaguar in particular suffered a grim August in which its sales in the UK dropped by almost 16 per cent and the number of cars sold was eclipsed by MG Rover, the Longbridge car maker which ceased production in April.

Eligible employees at offices in Castle Bromwich, in Birmingham; Gaydon, in Warwickshire; Whitley, in Coventry, and Halewood, on Merseyside, are being invited to apply for voluntary redundancy.

Jaguar would not reveal exact details of the redundancy package, but it is thought to exceed the £36,000 and full pension given to staff after the Browns Lane plant in Coventry ceased car production earlier the year.

Mr McConomy said the programme had been launched to improve the competitiveness of Jaguar.

He said: "The whole automotive business is struggling at the moment, with some very tough market conditions.

"It is not getting any easier out there and we know we have to restructure to become more competitive and cost effective."

The spokesman said a series of initiatives was being launched to help Jaguar overcome its sales malaise.

The centrepiece is new XK sports car, which is being launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show next week.

The spokesman said: "The new car is going to be very important for Jaguar as a producer of fast and beautiful cars."

Other initiatives include the launch of the diesel XJ executive car, and new models, prices and features for the X-Type.

Ford said in June this year it was "evaluating options for reducing personnel-related costs outside of North America" after warning on profits for the second time in three months.

It had been claimed that production was being cut back at the company's factories to meet the lower demand.

David Osbourne, national car industry negotiator for the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "We have been advised that there are a limited number of people who will be allowed to leave the company voluntarily."