DETROIT - GM Europe's GM.UL Vauxhall and Opel car sales may fall as much as 5 percent in 2010, as tentative signs of economic recovery are offset by the end of scrapping incentive schemes, its CEO said on Tuesday.

The European unit of U.S. carmaker General Motors, which saw a turbulent year in 2009 as its parent -- which had recently emerged from bankruptcy -- negotiated for months to sell it before backtracking and deciding to keep it, sold around 1.2 million vehicles last year, Nick Reilly told journalists at the Detroit Auto Show.

The carmaker would find it hard to maintain that momentum next year, he said.

I think most people think (the general economy) will recover a bit, but not very strongly, Reilly said, referring to 2010.

In the automotive market there were special incentive programmes especially in Germany that boosted the market temporarily and dragged some sales forward from 2010 to 2009. We're going to get the payback for that this year. It'll be difficult for us to maintain the same volume in 2010 as we had in 2009 in that circumstance, Reilly said.

I would say we'll probably be down somewhere between zero and 5 percent. We might do better than that, Reilly said, adding that popular products like the Astra, Insignia and forthcoming new Meriva might help boost market share.

Reilly said he saw the Western European auto market as a whole dropping by between 1 million and 1.5 million units this year.

Reilly confirmed that GM Europe was still aiming to present a restructuring plan by the end of January, and added that no decision had yet been taken on Antwerp, the Opel plant in Belgium that is considered a possible candidate for closure.

Opel has said it plans to cut around 8,300 jobs from its workforce of some 50,000 in a 3.3 billion-euro overhaul that sees it seeking state aid from countries with Opel plants, including Germany, Britain -- home to Opel's sister brand Vauxhall -- Spain and Poland.
Reilly said on Tuesday that discussions with all the relevant governments were making progress.

Reilly said a supervisory board meeting on Friday would probably provide answers about whether he would take on the role of Opel CEO on a long-term basis.

You'll probably find out at the end of the week. Until the supervisory has met, I can't tell you what they'll decide, Reilly said. Asked if he would disagree with a suggestion that he would take on the role, he replied, I wouldn't disagree.

Reilly took over as GM Europe CEO late last year, initially on a temporary basis, after the U.S. carmaker controversially decided to keep its European operations, reversing months of fraught negotiations to sell them to Canada's Magna and its Russian partner Sberbank.