New revelations today regarding Honda’s decision to close down its Swindon factory from 2021 are both heartbreaking and underline why such major, devastating decisions can so often hang on the thinnest of margins.
The Swindon Advertiser is reporting high-placed sources at Honda who have told them that equipment to prepare for the hybridisation of the next-generation Honda Civic was already on a boat being sent to the plant when the decision to close it was announced.
The insinuation is clear: up until very recently, Honda was still planning a future for Swindon and plans for it to be equipped with technology to future-proof its existence were very well advanced.
Of course, ‘well advanced’ doesn’t mean sorted. A Honda spokesman told the Swindon Advertiser as much, albeit with a hefty dose of corporate jargon thrown in: “Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd were in the feasibility stages of New Model allocation and had begun preparation to bid for the next generation of Civic. The new Civic was to feature a petrol-electric hybrid within the model line-up.
“In order to prepare Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd for future models, installation of some equipment and changes to the layout of the plant had to take place before the model allocation was confirmed.
“This was due to the long lead time for ordering and installation of this equipment.”
But the question now is what made Honda executives pull the plug on this exploratory phase so abruptly, and presumably at great expense? The publically cited reason for the closure was, after all, the need to invest in electrification. If that was already being done, it suggests that other motives were afoot, too.
In the wake of the closure announcement Philip Crossman, the former Honda UK managing director and now automotive consultant, told Autocar exclusively that there were five key reasons for the decision: the global shifts in car sales, a dramatic fall in Chinese sales, the Japan-EU trade deal, Brexit uncertainty and – of course – the need to invest in electrification.
Maybe this revelation changes nothing. Maybe the reason officially stated – the need to invest in electrifcation – remains true, but Swindon fell out of that plan. Or maybe we should look to dial up – or down – some of the other contributory factors.
Either way, alas, the end result remains the same.