Another wave of catastrophic car-company news this morning, as Honda closes its Swindon plant for a staggering four months. Look around the industry and you see that even the golden boys are in the cack.
These are the companies regarded as impeccably run because they have strong brands. They build high-profit premium cars, or very green cars. They do it to high quality in superbly managed factories. They’re still losing money.
Honda’s profits have collapsed. Toyota is going into loss. Nissan, which already swallowed massively painful efficiency measures under Carlos Ghosn starting a decade ago, is forecasting losses this year too. The latest view in the City is that BMW will burn €600 million of cash this quarter. Mercedes is mothballing plants. Car manufacturing in Britain, as many other places, is getting Government loan guarantees. [Edit, 6 Febrary: Even Audi, previously boasting it was recession-proof, saw its global sales collapse by 29 percent in January compared with the same month in 2008.]
And finally yesterday, Ford posted a third-quarter loss of nearly $5.9bn. Read that number again. Slowly.
Two months ago it was easy and fashionable to knock GM and Ford in Detroit as old, broken companies. But the fact that even their best rivals are in such a pickle shows us what headwinds they face.
I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader for Detroit. I criticised them vociferously in the late 1990s for slow reactions, poor quality and inappropriate car ranges. But now we should cut them some slack. They really were turning themselves around before this tidal wave hit. But because of that, it hit them hardest.