Honda closes its only British factory as Brexit looms

The move is expected to wipe out at least 3,500 jobs

Photo: EPA

The Japanese automaker Honda has become the latest business to announce plans to leave Britain as global forces reshape the car industry and the country prepares to exit the European Union. On Tuesday the carmaker confirmed it will shut down its only manufacturing plant in the EU, which lies in the English town of Swindon and currently employs 3,500 people. Thousands more jobs will be also put at risk at suppliers and other businesses.

“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,” Katsushi Inoue, the chief officer for European operations, said in a statement, continuing that the factory, which produces about 150,000 cars a year, will close once its current line of Civic cars comes to an end. He also added that restructuring will also involve Honda's business in Turkey, which currently produces 38,000 Civic sedans per year. That will cease in 2021.

In response, Britain’s Business Secretary Greg Clark said that the move is a “devastating decision for Swindon and the UK.”

“The news is a particularly bitter blow to the thousands of skilled and dedicated staff who work at the factory, their families and all of those employed in the supply chain,” Clark said, adding that he would convene a “task force” to keep the employees in work.

Honda follows other companies that have retrenched in the face of sluggish markets, tougher environmental regulation and challenges from deep-pocketed technology companies that are pursuing electric and autonomous driving cars. Last month, Ford said it was cutting thousands of jobs across Europe as emissions rules and declining demand ate into its profits. Another American carmaker, General Motors, pulled out of Europe in 2017 after persistent losses in the region. 

But the losses in Britain, coming as the country tries to leave the EU, have been particularly striking as investment in the country’s auto industry plummeted by half in 2018, prompting a recent plea from the automakers’ trade association. 

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