Aston Martin warns it may have to axe a third of workers

Honda also looks to cut back on staffing levels

The pain in the motor industry showed little sign of abating yesterday, with Aston Martin warning it could have to cut up to a third of its workforce and Honda launching a voluntary headcount reduction plan.

Aston Martin, the luxury car maker famous for being James Bond's favourite, said some 300 permanent staff and a similar number of temp-orary workers are facing redundancy because of the impact of the global economic downturn on the comp-any's sales.

Ulrich Bez, the chief executive, said: "Like other premium car brands, Aston Martin has been forced to take action to respond to the unprecedented downturn in the global economy. These are regrettable but necessary measures in the extraordinary market conditions we all now face."

Aston Martin sold 110 cars in the UK in October, 54 less than the year before, and annual sales are forecast to be down 800. Last week, the company announced that its plant at Gaydon in Warwickshire would stay closed until 19 January, doubling the original two-week shutdown. Honda, which has also put in place measures to reduce its output, is also looking for ways to cut staff numbers. Yesterday, it launched a three-tier scheme including an "associate release package" offering a lump sum for people who resign and a sabbatical programme for extended leave on half-pay. "We are not making people redundant," a spokesman for Honda said. "The idea is to try to reduce numbers on a voluntary basis but we have no fixed number in mind."

The combination of slowing consumer spending and reduced credit liquidity is causing problems for car makers across the world. Aston Martin's production cuts joined a growing list of companies forced to take similar measures, including Nissan, Honda, BMW, Mini and Bentley. The number of jobs being lost is also growing, and last week, just as 850 agency workers were being laid off by Jaguar Land Rover, representatives from 17 major UK manufacturers were in talks with Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, about emergency measures to bail out the beleaguered sector.

Paul Everitt, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which brokered last week's meeting and will be central to further discussions with the Government, said the news from Aston Martin and Honda was further evidence that time is running out.

"These announcements underline how exceptional the current circumstances are and how speedily the effects are being played out," Mr Everitt said. "The sooner we begin working out both how to support legitimate companies facing short-term problems and how to ensure we protect the industrial capability for the long term, the better. We can come up with fantastic policies and funding but if it is so far into next year that the damage is already done, then it does not help much."

Car manufacturers' problems are not restricted to the UK. The Japanese giants Toyota, Mazda and Nissan have all announced production cuts and redundancies. In the US, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have to produce a viable recovery plan this week to merit the mooted $25bn (£16bn) rescue plan from Congress.

Ford also announced yesterday that it is considering its options regarding its Volvo subsidiary, and may even sell the loss-making Swedish marque.

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