Instead of continuing to make this slow seller, Swindon should be building...

Instead of continuing to make this slow seller, Swindon should be building...

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Not for the first time, Honda Motor Europe's Swindon plant west of London is soon to suffer a production cut. The reason is not, as the company maintains, slow overall economic expansion across European markets, but something else.

First off, I should note that Honda is the company I most admire, for a multitude of reasons. It never indulged in the orgy of factory building which caused Toyota's capacity glut in North America a few years back, nor does it seek taxpayers' money in form of government subsidies anywhere in the world. Its engines are some of the best anywhere, and it returns strong profits year in, year out.

Europe is a big problem for Honda and while it does at last seem to be operating in the region as less of an obvious outsider - witness the locally-developed new Civic estate - it still makes mistakes. Big ones, sometimes. Keeping the now seven-year old Jazz (I know it's only been made there since 2009 but it was then already two years old) in production at Swindon is bad planning, pure and simple. It's a good car but it has never offered a diesel engine, which is astonishing. I understand that it's close to the end of its lifecycle but that only means the replacement, launched in Japan six months ago, ought to be here, now.

Swindon won't be building the third generation Jazz, however. That decision was announced in October 2012, followed in November 2013 by the news that the current car won't be replaced in European markets until the second half of 2015. Why? No doubt it will be down to where HME's next Jazz is manufactured. The Yorii plant in Japan began making the new model (sold there as the Fit) last July, with Celaya in Mexico building its first series production vehicles just a few weeks ago. So both RHD and LHD production already exists - but neither location is ideal for EU market cars due to the lack of diesel engines and other region-specific needs (NAFTA markets cars also lack stop-start).

I suspect the next Jazz for Europe will likely be sourced from India but apart from Brazil, Honda is yet to name any other countries where the model will be manufactured. HMIL also builds a state of the art new-ish 1.5-litre diesel engine which would be perfect for European tax regulations. The trouble is, HME made a relatively recent big investment in the form of 1.6-litre diesel engine production in England. I suspect there had originally been plans, now cancelled, to fit this to a Swindon-built third generation Jazz. Alas, the 1.6 is now used only for the Civic and CR-V, thus making the business case for the investment far weaker than it was likely originally envisaged as being.

What is the answer to HME's woes? In particular, how can Honda break an ongoing cycle of investment for its UK operations, followed twice in the past half-decade by a production hiatus and now, line consolidation and staffing cuts? There are two ways out of this situation: close Swindon, which seems unlikely, or do the one thing which ought to be blindingly obvious to Honda Motor and HME alike: get the Vezel, the company's new B segment crossover, into production in England ASAP.