Honda re-starts, but slowly

The Honda car factory in Swindon re-started its engine yesterday after closing its doors four months ago as the global recession sent car-buying into freefall.

But the return to production is tentative. Just 3,400 out of nearly 5,000 former workers will return to the assembly lines and the Wiltshire plant will be running at only 50 per cent capacity for the foreseeable future.

Staff who chose to stay, rather than take advantage of the Japanese giant's voluntary redundancy scheme, have agreed to union-brokered pay cuts designed to keep compulsory job losses to a minimum. Managers will see their salaries come down by 5 per cent, the rest of the workforce by 3 per cent.

At full tilt, the Swindon plant can churn out 250,000 Honda Civics per year. But four months of downtime and only a tentative return to activity has taken the 2009 production estimate to fewer than 113,000 vehicles.

Although the assembly lines were at a standstill, the factory was not deserted. Honda instituted a major maintenance programme, including stripping out and rebuilding all production lines.

The entire plant was also redecorated, in some cases by employees with specialist skills such as plumbing. Work has also gone ahead with the long-term investment programme, including an upgraded painting process, a new press and a new weld line.

The computer systems and production facilities needed to start UK production of the new Honda Jazz model in September are also now in place.

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