Car Talk: Honda turn their back on Swindon

Last month, Honda shocked Britain by announcing the closure of its Swindon factory, scheduled to cease producing the Civic by 2021. As a British bloke, a petrolhead and – above all – a Honda owner this was pretty disappointing news. Of greatest importance however is the impending loss of well in excess of 3,000 jobs from the factory with further reprocussions likely as supply chains and other associated businesses (even down to the snack vans and local eateries that benefit from the trade of the Honda workforce) are hit by the domino effect. Honda’s Swindon factory has been producing cars since 1989 and so Swindon IS Honda. The plug being pulled on operations there is going to hit the town harder than the Honda-powered Mclaren MP4/4 pummelled the rest of the Formula 1 grid in ’88.

hl-1

But why was this decision taken? The first inevitable suspect is the big bad arch-demon in the room that some whisper can be summoned by sitting in the centre of a pentagram and chanting the word “Brexit”. So far though, Honda have denied that the economic uncertainty being felt as a result of our embarassing divorce from the EU is to blame and I actually believe them (for reasons I will explain in a moment). Instead they have cited vague global market shifts and a need to adapt quickly. Sales of diesel cars are falling and electrification is now seen as essential.

None of which really explains why Swindon had to close; not in black-and-white plain-speaking terms at least. One rumour I read online (and I have to stress the word “rumour” given that I have no hard evidence to back it up) claimed that the equipment and robotics necessary to manufacture electric vehicles was actually on the way from Japan but the ships were turned back. Other inside sources claim that Honda had been promising upgrades to the factory to enable production of more technologically advanced vehicles for years now.

So it seems like a very sudden snap deicision and I would be accusing Honda of side-stepping the citation of Brexit as the true reason but the company also announced the closure of a Civic plant in Turkey. Obviously, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit will not help any business make decisions and long-term commitments to the UK but I don’t believe that Brexit itself is the sole motivator for Swindon being axed. Honda, it seems, are simply pulling out of Europe.

As dire as this is for the town of Swindon and the UK economy, I do want to take a balanced viewpoint and ask if this was really such a surprise. After all, the Swindon plant only produces Civics out of Honda’s current range of cars. Additionally, one of the production lines has been dormant for some time now. Finally, should warning signs have been visible? The automotive landscape is shifting towards electric vehicles and it’s odd that Honda has lagged behind the likes of Toyota and Nissan in this field, especially since they were one of the first manufacturers to “go green” and sell the hybrid car to the masses with the gen one Insight and hybrid Civic saloon.

ctr-2
[image: carscoops.com]
Then you have to consider the fact that Honda, as a Japanese business, will always want to be seen prioritising the industry and workforce in their homeland and that could well be another reason for bringing more work home. That and cheaper wages + reduced costs in an industry that has slumped sales-wise. This is understandable of course because if it were the other way around, I’m positive that British people would want manufacturing to return to the UK with little regard for overseas job losses. It sounds harsh but it’s the truth, as cold as it may sound.

Whatever the reasons behind Honda’s decision, one thing must certainly be held against them and that is the way in which the workforce at Swindon became aware of their upcoming job losses. Employees didn’t get the word from their employer; it broke on social media first and the first that many knew of it was when their exit from work was met by TV cameras and reporters. Clearly somebody from higher up said “fuck that” to confidentiality and squealed. It’s a shitty business and make no mistake about it.

Finally, I have to mention the ridiculous idea that Civic Type-R production is going to be axed altogether with the current FK8 generation since Swindon is the only Honda factory producing these winged hyper-hatches. Production is just going to shift to Japan and these cars will still be sold to us as usual…at a higher price no doubt once taxes and import duties have had their say.

Car Talk: You can’t beat a sunny Sunday afternoon drive

A strange thing has happened here in Brexit land the UK over the past week: it has been warm and sunny in February. I realise that temperatures of around 15C (give or take a few either way depending on the day) probably sound chilly to some of you but over here, we go crazy for it. Ice cream vans come out of their temporary winter retirement, people immediately start wearing shorts and outdoor attractions are taken by surprise as the whole country turns out to enjoy a quick fix of what is surely a fake dosage of “summer”. Regrettably the womenfolk aren’t all fooled so easily so if you are ready to appreciate the wonders of short-shorts and flimsy vest tops then I’m afraid it’s a false dawn. Be patient.

To put things into perspective, this time last year we were in the grip of The Beast From The East and had snow/ice on the ground. We were all miserable and gloomy as we should be at this time of year. On a side note, the so-called ‘Beast’ was a bit of a wimp and social media enjoyed exaggerrating it’s powers and overly-dramatising the kind of snow and low temperatures that I’m sure other countries would scoff at. Unfortunately, we are not used to snow here in Britain and so the reality of the situation was distorted by our lack of hardiness and also the stupidity of certain people who believe it’s perfectly fine to drive at normal speeds on ice in powerful, rear wheel drive German cars.

Winter and our inability to deal with a few centimetres of snow is a whole other topic for another time however.

roads1

I’m here to talk about the joys of going for a drive for the sake of it, something I do quite often but an undeniably more attractive proposition when the weather is great as it was this Sunday. I’m fortunate to live not far from some beautiful, picturesque countryside and fantastic driving roads so it was with zero hesitation that I decided to spend Sunday afternoon attacking the lanes in my car and cruising through laid-back English villages, lapping up the lazy Sunday afternoon atmosphere and sunshine. Sunglasses and race driver wannabe Alpinestars gloves on. Window dropped all the way down. Tunes pumping from the speakers (old school House courtesy of 808 State, 28th Street Crew and Frankie Knuckles).

My chariot for this jaunt is also my daily driver: an FN2 generation Honda Civic Type-R. the last gasp (quite literally) of naturally aspirated, high-revving V-TEC power before regulations and emissions bullshit forced Honda to start turbocharging their engines. I’ve had the car for almost four years and absolutely love it. The styling still strikes me as futuristic and it’s perfectly useable as an urban runabout or daily commuter (aside from the spine-shaking suspension…) but on a day like the Sunday just gone, I can really enjoy winding that 2.0 lump up into the high ranges of the rev counter and listening to the building banshee wail as V-TEC kicks in (yo).

CTR-1
[image: autocar.co.uk]
The only downside (other than watching the fuel guage deplete…) is that you are always aware that the FN2 isn’t quite as dynamic as it’s predecessor, the much-loved EP3 Civic Type-R. The rear suspension for example isn’t independent and so you have to watch that the back end doesn’t break away upon hitting crested/bumpy corners at silly speeds. You have to push hard for such a disaster to occur of course but the possibility lives in the back of my mind.

I tend to try and stay somewhere in between subdued and mental, making sure to have my fun without being a lunatic. By day I work as a delivery driver and have to suffer sluggish, speed-restricted and tracked vans so it’s good to let loose on a day off and feel that freedom.

Sundays see many car lovers bring their pride and joy out of storage, even more so when the sun is shining. You can see some great stuff, both classic and modern. Highlights for me this weekend were a Triumph TR6, B5 gen Audi RS4 Avant and a McLaren (don’t ask me which though; aside from the F1 and P1, I’m hopeless at distinguishing which is which).

I suggest that anybody into cars or driving takes the opportunity to enjoy a sunny Sunday when possible and just go for that destination-less drive. To me, little else is as satisfying as booting it along British B-roads and lanes while working a manual ‘box and simply feeling in-sync with your car. Too often these days the media tries to make us petrolheads feel guilty for stubbornly sticking with loud, unapologetic, polluting sports cars and I sometimes wonder if such basic pleasures will be forcibly taken away from us one day for “the greater good”.

Enjoy it while you can.