LONDON -- Honda halted work at its Civic plant in the UK as ports struggle to cope with the confluence of COVID-19 cases, the pre-Christmas holiday rush and preparations for Brexit.
The automaker will not run its factory in Swindon, England, on Wednesday because of delayed parts deliveries, a Honda spokesman said. Honda will restart output as soon as possible, the spokesman said.
The container port at Felixstowe, England, where Honda gets its supplies from Asia, has been severely congested by the usual rush related to Christmas and companies looking to stockpile goods before the Brexit transition period ends Jan. 1. That has prompted a number of cargo ships to skip stopping at the port and instead go on to their next destination.
Honda has a just-in-time production system where parts from suppliers go straight into the factory and are installed in cars rolling down the assembly line. If just one component is missing, it can halt the assembly line. The automaker is considering using air freight to move some of its critical parts.
Michael Gove, the UK cabinet minister in charge of Brexit negotiations, downplayed the extent to which Britain leaving the EU is playing a role in Honda having to idle its factory.
"This primarily has to do with global factors," he said in an LBC radio interview. "Inevitably at this time of year, you get people who want to stock up in their warehouses. And I think that there’ll be different reasons why people were doing that."
The Swindon factory, about 130 km (80 miles) east of London, built just under 110,000 cars last year. Honda is closing the plant permanently next year as part of a global restructuring.
Automakers have been bracing for border turmoil with just weeks to go before the end of the Brexit transition period.
Bentley has put cargo planes on standby to possibly transport vehicle bodies, engines or other parts, while Vauxhall maker PSA Group warned last week that disruptions are inevitable even if there is a last-minute trade deal reached with the European Union.
The auto industry has repeatedly warned of catastrophe if the UK fails to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday as both sides seek to save the negotiations.
The UK and Europe are tightly intertwined in terms of automotive trade.
The absence of a deal would have severe consequences for manufacturers because a 10 percent duty could be applied to cars and 4 percent levy would hit parts.
Even a "bare-bones" accord that does not address rules of origin for components and other issues would cost the industry 14.1 billion pounds ($18.9 billion), according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Reuters contributed to this report