Honda to shut plant in Britain

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

TOKYO -- Japanese carmaker Honda plans to close its car factory in western England in 2021, a fresh blow to the British economy as businesses struggle with the uncertainty associated with leaving the European Union next month.

The company announced the decision, which will imperil 3,500 jobs and possibly many more, at a news conference in Tokyo.

Honda's president and CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, said the decision was not related to Brexit, but was based on what made most sense for its global competitiveness in light of the need to accelerate its production of electric vehicles.

Still, experts say the uncertainty surrounding Brexit will likely have been a contributing factor in a decision like Honda's. There is still no clarity on what leaving the EU will mean. In a worst case it could lead to heavy tariffs and border checks, raising costs and slowing deliveries.

That comes at a time when the industry is already in serious flux, with manufacturers shifting to cleaner vehicles, coping with more tariffs and a slowing global economy.

"We still don't know what sort of changes Brexit will bring at this point," said Hachigo. "We have to wait until we have a better idea about the situation."

Hachigo said the company would begin discussions with affected workers at the factory in Swindon right away.

"I very much regret this," he said, adding "this was the best choice under the circumstances."

Honda Motor Co. makes its popular Civic model at the factory, 70 miles west of London, with an output of 150,000 cars per year. Its restructuring is aimed at adjusting its operations to reflect stronger demand in Asia and North America, Hachigo said.

Honda is also adjusting its operations in Turkey, where it makes 38,000 Civic sedans a year. It said it would continue operating there, however, and hold a "constructive dialogue" with local stakeholders.

British businesses are issuing increasingly urgent warnings about the damage being done by the lack of clarity surrounding Britain's divorce from the EU. The U.K. has yet to seal a deal laying out the divorce terms and establishing what trade rules will apply after Brexit.

In presenting the restructuring plan, Hachigo stressed Honda was striving to adjust to a fast-changing, global industry. Technology is driving the change.

"We are facing increasingly severe competition from Chinese and Indian manufacturers," he said. "We have to move more quickly."

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