If you look at Honda’s global sales record over the past 15 years, it’s one of solid progress. Producing a relatively modest 2.25 million cars in 1999, Honda expanded steadily to 3.9m sales in 2008, at the point of the global credit crunch.
It lost a million sales in 2009 but bounced straight back to a healthy 3.59m in 2010. Like other Japanese car makers, Honda was affected badly by the east Japan earthquake and tsunami and sales dipped back to 2.89m in 2011.
But 2012 was surely a vintage year for Honda. It sold 4.08m cars, a single-year rise of 1.1m units. The company shifted 4.5m cars last year and banked a healthy pre-tax profit of £4.24bn in 2014-2015.
Honda’s big area of failure has been Europe. Its Swindon plant was at capacity in 2008, making 230,000 cars. That collapsed to just 75,583 units in 2009, leading to one of the two production lines being closed. The Japanese earthquake resulted in a shortage of parts for all Honda plants in 2011, Swindon’s output dipping to 97,000 units.
Swindon produced only 120,000 units last year and Honda sold just 132,000 cars in Europe, a market share of 1%. Honda thinks it can pull itself back in the UK but admits that markets such as Germany and France remain strongly Honda-resistant.
But with mainstream profit margins in Europe so slim, maybe Honda doesn’t need to lose too much sleep about the European market.