Honda’s car factory in Swindon is back to full operations after what the Japanese company’s European chief described as a “very difficult year” in 2011.
Sales and assembly were badly hit first by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, then the floods which closed Honda’s assembly operations in Thailand in October. These had knock-on effects around the globe.
Ken Keir, executive vice-president, Honda Motor Europe , said: “I would defy any corporate entity to set that as a ‘what-if?’ scenario. It is only two weeks ago that Swindon got back to full-tilt production.”
Last year’s disasters saw Honda’s global production drop from 3.6m vehicles to 2.9m while sales fell from 3.5m to 3m. Even its motorcycle division felt the effects with sales falling 9% – although the company still led with 16m sales.
Keir said Swindon lost 50% of its planned production last year as supplies of parts from Japan and Thailand dried up.
“This also had a significant effect on our tier two and three suppliers who have also had a very difficult time.”
Sales in Europe were down 20% last year and Keir admitted that not all of the problems were caused by the natural disasters. The company left itself short of new product.
He said: “If you look back to the time of the Lehmann Brothers collapse and the start of the economic downturn, we decided to delay the replacement of models and that has also cost us.”
There are now plans to launch new models every year over the next four years. This has started with the new Civic and CR-V and the NSX sports car will arrive in three years.
Keir also said that there are plans to increase research and development in Europe – including Swindon where Honda has also spent about GBP1.5bn.
“Europe is seen as the bastion of style and quality,” he said. “Honda wants its future models to have a more European feel, not just in looks and ride but in soft engineering terms such as touch, feel and smell.”
The Swindon plant is currently assembling 250,000 Civic and CR-V models annually and will soon add production of the company’s new 1.6-litre diesel engine. By increasing shifts, vehicle production can be boosted to 280,000 a year.