General Motors Europe (Vauxhall) was taken over by the PSA Group – maker of Peugeot and Citroen – earlier this year.
The company says the redundancies have come about because the group is ‘facing challenging European market conditions’.
Ellesmere Port, which makes the Astra models, will move staff from two production shifts to one in early 2018.
Vauxhall employs about 4,500 people in the UK, with about 1,800 at Ellesmere Port. The company also has a factory at Luton, which makes vans.
Professor David Bailey, from Aston Business School, said cost-cutting was expected following the take-over given there was spare capacity across the company and political pressure to protect French jobs.
He told the BBC : “It isn’t a surprise. Peugeot have taken over General Motors Europe. They will look to cut costs. I think ultimately they will look to close plants in Europe to try and get their costs down and so there is considerable uncertainty about some of the plants, particularly Ellesmere Port in the UK given all the uncertainty over Brexit going forward and given how easy it is to fire workers in the UK.
“So big uncertainty for Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port and this doesn’t help.”
Prof Bailey said the fall in the value of the pound post the Brexit decision meant the cost of importing components for the Astra had soared with no corresponding boost on the export side as would have been anticipated. The UK market was also declining because of ‘a slowing economy and a squeeze on real incomes’.
In addition, there had been a change in consumer trends.
He added: “There are a number of diferent things going on. I think the company is quite right in saying the demand for certain models like the Astra has fallen. The market has changed. Increasingly people are buying cross-over vehicles or SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and not the cars made at Ellesmere Port.”
A new Vauxhall range is in the pipeline which should ‘improve’ their market position although there’s no certainty about where they would be made.
He continued: “The hope for Ellesmere Port must be, in trying to be positive for the company, it’s about getting costs down at this point so they can then compete for models coming up in future, in particular the replacement model for the Astra.
"A decision needs to be made on that in something like 2018. Unfortunately for the plant that’s slap bang in the middle of the Article 50 negotiations but it has to be more than just the Astra. It has to include a model that’s got a range of different bodies including sports utility vehicles in order to appeal to the way the market is going.”
Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders said: “This is hugely disappointing news; for so many people to lose their jobs at once is bound to have an impact on the local economy. I hope that the vast majority, if not all, of the departures can be achieved on a voluntary basis and that the local job centre will be proactive in working with those dismissed to find further opportunities.
“It looks like this decision is down to the slow sales figures for the Astra in recent times, rather than a reflection of the dedicated local workforce, but equally we cannot pretend that there isn’t still huge uncertainty about the future.”
He added: “It is clear that in order to put ourselves in the best position to secure a new model’s production at the plant we need to maximise the cost effectiveness of the site. That includes support for some long standing requests made to Government and a far larger local supply chain content for that vehicle.
"These are things that can be worked on now and I know locally the council and the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) are beginning to shape that vision. What we need from central Government is political and financial commitment to achieve these aims as well as certainty about our future trading relationship as soon as possible.
“It is very clear that now is the time for the full weight of national Government to swing behind the plant; I will continue to work with all interested parties to help secure a future for the automotive industry in Ellesmere Port.”