Honda Motor Europe is reorganising its Swindon manufacturing facility in response to market conditions which will see 340 jobs lost, as well as reductions across the supply chain.
North Swindon resident Geoff Maxted of DriveRight looks at Honda’s problems and suggests what needs to be done to improve its prospects.
Just when we get the hint of a suggestion that the British economy has turned, if not a corner, then a slight bend in the road, so something has to come along and trample those slim green shoots of recovery.
The news that Swindon car manufacturer Honda is to cut a production shift in response to market conditions suggests that things are not quite as rosy as they are made to appear – at least in the car business.
Obviously, an international company with a world-wide market to serve is likely to feel the effects of global downturns more than most. So, if, as we know, Honda make some great cars, then what’s the problem?
Honda’s UK production serves the British and wider European market. New car sales in the UK are doing well. In February, new car registrations grew 3.0% to 68,736 units. The UK’s new car market in general has achieved 24 consecutive months of growth, increasing 17.4% over the period. Rising GDP and growing car registrations signal increasing consumer confidence and dealers anticipate that March results will show a strong 14-plate performance.
Thus it is that the finger of blame points firmly towards the slowdown in the European Union, so it seems that it is the export market that is casting a pall. Speaking earlier this year when the cut-backs were first mooted, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive Paul Everitt, said, “This is very disappointing news for Honda staff and their families. The decline in European new car markets and uncertain growth prospects has forced a number of vehicle manufacturers to restructure their operations.”
So, it’s not just us then.
On the other hand, is it the cars?
As mentioned above, the new car market grew 17.4% between February 2012 (1.94 million registrations) and February 2014 (2.28 million). While the supermini segment recorded solid growth over the period, volumes in the mini segment almost doubled, helped by the introduction of new models.
The small car market has been supported by motorists looking to reduce running costs, as well as increased diversification of products and advances in levels of comfort and safety.
Honda in Swindon builds the evergreen, versatile Jazz, the Civic and the new Civic Tourer, above, plus the CR-V sports utility vehicle. Certainly, all of these cars have been around for a while now and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the company has been slow to change to meet current trends, especially in the Mini sector.
Honda, which always used to be so good at having its finger on the pulse of the buying public, seemingly has exhausted its product-development mojo. Yes, the cars still sell and the company has an excellent track record on emissions and the like but they are losing ground to the opposition.
Various other manufacturers have produced some new cars squarely aimed at what they perceive to be a ‘lifestyle’ market. It can be argued that Honda have been a tad slow to embrace some of the new technologies that customers are now asking for. It seems that with the most recent redesigns, Honda keeps shuffling styling elements around without actually showing any real progress.
The latest Civic offers some mildly tweaked styling and some new features like push-button start, plus all the now-expected multi-media options but the car simply hasn’t had the impact of the original that stunned the public some years ago.
The attractive new Tourer goes some way to addressing that. The Jazz has been around for some time and although a fine car it has fallen behind in the small car race to the rival funky newcomers in the sector.
Yes, Europe has been moribund for the car industry. Hybrid sales are fairly bullish but, although there are hybrids in the Honda range, cars like the striking 2014 CR-V don’t have that all important hybrid option – yet. The car industry certainly needs to see some efforts made to revitalise the Euro-economy with the UK doing better than most. Honda though can’t wait for that to happen, long term.
The company have shown a variety of concepts at recent global motor shows and there are at least four new cars in the pipeline for production around the globe. There’s the ‘Fit’ for the sub-compact sector, a futuristic urban SUV, a tiny sports car – the S660 – and an electric car straight out off the Jetsons – above – but that doesn‘t help Swindon now.
We know that the long awaited ‘R’ version of the Civic, below, is scheduled for 2015 but what our town needs right now is for some new models to be produced here. It’s good that Honda have emphasised their continued commitment to the town but we don’t want to hear words like ‘restructuring’; the word we need is ‘rebuilding’.