Coronavirus: BMW, Honda and Toyota suspend UK car production

Mini factoryImage source, GEOFF CADDICK

The UK car industry is slowly grinding to a halt after BMW, Toyota and Honda said they would temporarily shut down their UK factories because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nissan and Vauxhall have already closed plants amid falling sales and a lack of parts caused by the epidemic.

Jaguar Land Rover is expected to halt production in the coming days.

In North America, Ford and General Motors are among the firms also shutting factories due to the virus.

BMW has about 8,000 staff in the UK. It operates a Mini factory near Oxford, as well as plants in Swindon and Hams Hall and makes Rolls Royce cars at Goodwood.

The car giant said in a statement: "Due to the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic we have taken the difficult decision to cease production at our production sites at Oxford and Swindon as of Monday next week [23 March] for a period of four weeks until 17 April.

"The plans for Hams Hall are under development and a subsequent announcement will be made."

It said its factory workers would be paid during the four week period, but would be expected to take the time off either as holiday, accrued overtime, or as "negative overtime" which they will "pay back" at a later date.

Meanwhile, Ford and General Motors have said they will close their plants in the US, Canada and Mexico until the end of the month, as they clean surfaces and adjust procedures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The move comes after one of Ford's employees in Michigan tested positive for the disease.

Toyota plans

Toyota said it was suspending production at its European plants, including its factory at Burnaston in Derbyshire and its engine facility in Deeside, from tomorrow until further notice.

The two plants, which employ about 3,000 people, will be put on paid leave for at least two weeks.

In North America, the firm is closing its manufacturing facilities from 23-24 March, with plans to re-open on 25 March.

"This action is being taken to help ensure the health and safety of our employees, and due to an anticipated decline in market demand related to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," the firm said. "As the impact of the situation evolves, we will continue to evaluate conditions."

Honda meanwhile said production will be suspended from Thursday until at least 6 April. Its main UK plant in Swindon, which has about 3,000 employees, is due to close in 2021.

The firms join a raft of car manufacturers temporarily shutting down or scaling back European production, including:

  • Ferrari
  • Fiat Chrysler
  • Ford
  • French carmaker PSA, which owns the Peugeot, Opel and Vauxhall brands
  • TPSA, a joint venture owned by PSA and Toyota
  • Renault
  • Volkswagen
  • Daimler, the owner of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
  • Nissan
  • Sweden's Volvo Cars, owned by China's Geely.

All are struggling to get the parts they need due to travel restrictions across the continent, as well as facing a drop-off in sales as people limit all but essential social contact.

It comes as the car industry is already facing a slowdown linked to Brexit and tougher emissions rules.

Business as usual is simply no longer an option for the European car industry. Car factories need a steady supply of parts, delivered where they're needed, when they're needed. But the upheaval across the continent caused by the Covid-19 outbreak is disrupting those crucial supply chains.

At the same time, car sales have been badly hit. If people can't leave their homes, they can't buy cars - even if the dealerships remain open. That's already had a major impact in Italy, Spain and France. It affects the UK too - because many of the cars made here are exported to Europe.

The question now is what happens next. The industry was already under huge cost pressure - spending huge sums on developing zero or low emissions vehicles in order to meet extremely stringent new emissions rules, and avoid potentially huge fines.

And for manufacturers in the UK, life after Brexit still holds major uncertainties.

A stoppage like this was the last thing the industry needed. It can weather short term disruption but the problem is, no one knows how long the disruption will last.

JLR next?

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) said in a statement that it planned to continue production in the UK until at least the end of this week, if parts supplies are still available.

It added: "We will continue to closely monitor and review the situation as it evolves."

A spokesman for the firm said the health of its workforce was its "primary concern".

The BBC has approached Honda for a comment on its plans.