UPDATE, 19/02/19 1000h:
While Honda at Swindon hadn't been running at full capacity for a while, the emergence of rumours around its closure still came as a surprise. Now news of its closure has been confirmed by Honda, with the factory set to close in 2021.
The BBC story features a statement from Honda Europe Senior VP Ian Howells, who has maintained that the move is nothing to do with Britain's imminent departure from the EU. Instead he said: "We're seeing unprecedented change in the industry on a global scale. We have to move very swiftly to electrification of our vehicles [see the Urban EV] because of demand of our customers and legislation.
"We've always seen Brexit as something we'll get through, but these changes globally are something we will have to respond to. We deeply regret the impact it will have on the Swindon community." Further details have suggested that the UK (and more broadly Europe) is not worth the investment from Honda; don't forget that 90 per cent of the Civics made each year in Swindon are exported, with a lot going to America.
Honda is said to be consulting immediately with affected employees, but today all of the Swindon workforce has been sent home. A bleak day for UK car manufacturing, then, in what is already looking a pretty solemn year given the Nissan news. We'll keep you updated with any further developments.
ORIGINAL STORY, AS REPORTED 18/02/2019, 1500h:
Honda's assembly plant in Swindon has been one of the great UK manufacturing success stories since it first opened in 1985. Once upon a time it was producing 230,000 cars a year, with Accords, Jazzes, CR-Vs and Civics all being built there. While now down to just the Civic, it continues to hold a special significance to PH as the place where all Civic Type Rs are built.
Now, however, reports are emerging that Swindon may have just three years left as a manufacturing facility, potentially putting 3,500 jobs at risk. The story was first reported by Sky News, and has been picked up elsewhere in the motoring media, and suggests that a plan outlining the closure could be detailed tomorrow.
Why has this happened? A variety of reasons, as is often the case. There are, of course, the concerns over manufacturing and import/export as a result of Brexit, as well as what President Trump might do about tariffs on European-built cars. The Civic is huge in America, and so that could be a consideration. The decline in the demand for diesel is also thought to have contributed.
The most significant factor, however, according to Autocar at least, is believed to be Japan's recently signed trade deal with the European Union. Previous tariffs that applied to cars made in Japan for the EU will be scrapped by the end of this year; with the UK set to have left by then, the financial benefit for European sales to having a factory here is reduced. The Gezbe facility in Turkey, which also builds Civics, could prove a cheaper location to build and distribute the cars.
For now, there's nothing official from Honda. A statement issued this afternoon said: "At this point, we are not able to make any comments regarding the speculation. We take our responsibilities to our associates very seriously and will always communicate any significant news with them first." We'll update the story when there's more information.