Honda Swindon plant was preparing to start new Civic production just before closure

Wiltshire factory was installing new equipment and changing its layout in preparation to bid for the new Civic

The Honda plant in Swindon was making preparations to build the next generation Civic when news of its closure broke, it has been revealed.

The Wiltshire factory – which will be shut down in 2021 at the cost of 3,500 jobs – was bidding to be allocated production of the next Honda Civic, which will feature a petrol-electric drivetrain.

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In order to make its bid more successful, the factory had begun installing new equipment to build the hybrid model, as well as making necessary changes to the plant’s layout.

The reason for this was the equipment in question had a particularly long lead time, so needed to be ready in advance if the model was going to be allocated to Swindon.

In a statement, Honda said: “Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd was in the feasibility stages of new model allocation and had begun preparation to bid for the next generation of Civic. The new Civic was to feature a petrol-electric hybrid within the model line-up.

“In order to prepare for future models, installation of some equipment and changes to the layout of the plant had to take place before the model allocation was confirmed. This was due to the long lead time for ordering and installation of this equipment.”

However, these efforts eventually proved to be fruitless, as it was confirmed in February 2019 that the factory will indeed be closing.

David Hodgetts, managing director of Honda UK, told Auto Express that the inherent issue faced by the Swindon plant was that the only model it produced was the Civic, making it a “single-sourced factory”. Nevertheless, he admitted the closure was still “a big shock” for the workforce.

Hodgetts reiterated the claim that the closure of the plant was “a global decision” and said that while he had not been aware that equipment had already been installed at Swindon to build the new Civic, he could “believe that was the case” due to the time constraints involved.

Honda confirms Swindon factory closure with 3,500 job losses

Honda has confirmed it will permanently close its Swindon manufacturing plant by the end of the current Civic’s life cycle in the 2021. The plant currently produces around 150,000 cars per year and employs more than 3,500 workers, many of whom will be made redundant.

The Swindon plant is currently Honda’s only factory in the EU. It is also the only location globally that builds the Civic Hatch which, in 2018, was the third best-selling UK-built car in the world.

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According to Honda, its decision to close its UK manufacturing arm is a response to the current market push towards electrification, with the company undergoing a “global restructure” to cope with demand. Apparently, Swindon’s plant doesn’t meet the demands of this strategy.

Katsushi Inoue, President of Honda Europe, said: “In light of the unprecedented changes that are affecting our industry, it is vital that we accelerate our electrification strategy and restructure our global operations accordingly.

“As a result, we have had to take this difficult decision to consult our workforce on how we might prepare our manufacturing network for the future. This has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling today’s announcement will be for our people.”

The news on Honda’s Swindon plant closure follows the company’s announcement from early February, confirming 500 temporary jobs would be axed from the same factory.

Brexit not a factor, says MP

Conservative MP for North Swindon, Justin Tomlinson, told Auto Express that the Swindon plant’s closure was totally unrelated to Brexit, with Honda also apparently set to close its Turkish factory where it builds the Civic Saloon.

“This decision has been made because of global trends and is not related to Brexit,” said Tomlinson. “The Turkey factory will also close as all European market production is being consolidated to Japan where the company is based.

“This consolidation is made easier by the new EU-Japan trade deal which will allow Honda to produce [its] cars in Japan and import them into the EU, rather than produce the cars in Europe.

“Honda have told us today that they will be consulting with all staff and there is not expected to be any job losses or change in production until 2021.”

Japan-EU trade deal

On 1 February 2019, a new trade deal between the EU and Japan came into force. The deal will bring an end to the 10 per cent tariff currently applied to Japanese cars imported into the EU, although this change is being introduced gradually over a period of seven years in order to allow European carmakers to prepare.

Honda’s UK Manufacturing Director, Jason Smith, said: “We understand the impact this proposal will have on our associates, wider supplier base and the local community. We are committed to supporting associates to help them through this difficult time.”

Honda UK Manufacturing was founded in 1985 and production at the Swindon engine plant started in 1989. Over the years, Honda has invested a total of around £1.5 billion in the 370-acre site, with models such as the Accord, CR-V and Jazz all being produced there over the years.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, called Honda’s decision a “huge blow” to the UK’s automotive industry, and for Swindon’s “highly skilled and productive workforce”.

Hawes warned the “challenges facing Honda are not unique” and that the global automotive industry was facing “fundamental” changes related to technological, environmental and trade arrangements.

He added: “The UK should be at the forefront of these changes, championing its competitiveness and innovation, rather than having to focus resources on the need to avoid a catastrophic ‘no-deal’ Brexit.”

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