GENERAL Motors has denied reports its Vauxhall car plant in Ellesmere Port could close within a year if it doesn't increase its production rate.
Five European plants are competing to build the new Astra model but only four will be chosen.
Carl-Peter Forster, GM Europe's president, cranked up the pressure on Ellesmere Port, claiming it was not creating cars as fast as a plant in eastern Germany.
A decision on the Astra is due early next year and the comments were seen as an indication that the Port plant, which employs 2,900 people, was facing closure in just 12 months.
Mr Forster said: 'As a team they have got to come together and improve their operational performance.
'They've come a long way and have done a good job but they are not there yet.'
However, Vauxhall spokesman David Crundwell said any discussion that Ellesmere Port, or any other factory, was at risk was premature.
He said the North Road plant had performed well last year and was still focused on bringing out the older variation, the Astra Twin Top convertible.
Mr Crundwell said: 'They had a successful year last year with 186,000 Astras and we have some very exciting things in the pipeline.
'I am not aware of any year deadline.' He added: 'There is no question GM Europe must continue to improve its productivity, quality and other metrics at all of its manufacturing facilities across Europe.
'It's simply the competitive nature of the automotive industry today.
'GM has made significant progress in its manufacturing competitiveness and the employees have been integral to that progress. However, the benchmarks continue to move, so it is imperative that we stay focused on this area.'
Andrew Dodgshon, of the Transport & General Workers' Union, described speculation about the Port plant's future as 'un-helpful'.
Latest figures show the Port-built Astra finished fourth in the UK's best-sellers list for January, after the Ford Focus (first) and Ford Fiesta (second).
Astra sales amounted to 7,012, which represented a 4.5% share of the market.
Sales of all Vauxhall models during January were up by more than 2% on the same month last year.