Honda to shut plant in Brexit-shaken Britain
By KAORI HITOMI and DANICA KIRKA
Tuesday, February 19
LONDON (AP) — Japanese carmaker Honda plans to close its car factory in western England in 2021, a fresh blow to the British economy as it struggles with the uncertainty associated with leaving the European Union next month.
The company announced the decision, which will imperil 3,500 jobs and possibly many more, at a news conference in Tokyo.
Honda’s president and CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, said the decision was not related to Brexit, but was based on what made most sense for its global competitiveness in light of the need to accelerate its production of electric vehicles.
Still, experts say the uncertainty surrounding Brexit will likely have been a contributing factor in a decision like Honda’s. There is no clarity on what leaving the EU will mean. In a worst case, it could lead to heavy tariffs and border checks, raising costs and slowing deliveries.
That comes at a time when the industry is already in serious flux, with manufacturers shifting to cleaner cars, coping with more tariffs and a slowing global economy.
“We still don’t know what sort of changes Brexit will bring at this point,” said Hachigo. “We have to wait until we have a better idea about the situation.”
Honda Motor Co. makes its popular Civic model at the factory, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of London, with an output of 150,000 cars per year. Its restructuring is aimed at adjusting its operations to reflect stronger demand in Asia and North America, Hachigo said.
The next model of Civic to be sold in Britain will be exported from Japan.
Hachigo said the company would begin discussions with affected workers at the factory in Swindon right away.
“I very much regret this,” he said, adding that “this was the best choice under the circumstances.”
British businesses are issuing increasingly urgent warnings about the damage being done by the uncertainty surrounding Britain’s divorce from the EU. The U.K. has yet to seal a deal laying out the divorce terms and establishing what trade rules will apply after Brexit.
Many businesses fear economic chaos if there isn’t an agreement on the rules and conditions that will replace the 45 years of frictionless trade that came with being an EU member. The uncertainty has already led many firms to shift some operations abroad, stockpile goods or defer investment decisions.
Earlier this month, Japan’s Nissan announced that it would not build a new SUV at its plant in Sunderland, England, as previously planned.
L. Alan Winters, director of the U.K. Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, said that the backdrop of Brexit means that the U.K. is less able to respond to challenges in the industry.
“Honda, like all other car manufacturers, has a major problem to solve and having a chaotic government that does not seem to care about industry makes it less inclined to try to solve them here,” he said, adding that it will be difficult for Britain to face the shock. “With Brexit sucking life out of the U.K. economy, it will be much more difficult to find new activities and jobs to compensate for the losses at Honda and elsewhere.”
Beyond Brexit, the auto industry is facing strong headwinds. Ford Motor Co. is restructuring in Europe, closing a transmission plant in Bordeaux, France, dropping unprofitable model lines and separating an unspecified number of workers. General Motors said in November it would lay off 14,000 in North America and put five plants up for possible closure. Volkswagen has said it will cut jobs as it changes three plants in Germany to produce electric vehicles.
Economic growth is slowing, particularly in Europe, were auto sales fell 4.6 percent in January from a year ago. Car sales have also cooled in China, the world’s largest car market.
Automakers face pressure to invest large amounts of money in new technologies such as electric and autonomous cars to meet air pollution limits in Europe and China and fend off competition from tech companies such as Uber and Waymo.
Japan and the EU have meanwhile struck a free trade deal, which makes a manufacturing presence in the EU less important. The U.K.’s decision to leave the bloc could create further uncertainty for Japanese companies in Britain.
The planned closure will hit Swindon hard. Beyond the jobs at the plant, the jobs of those who supply the plant will also be at risk, as the auto industry has proved to be a bellwether of the economy.
Local lawmakers described the news as devastating and unions pledged to fight for the jobs.
British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke by phone with the president of Honda, her office said, without discussing further details.
The head of the TUC, an umbrella organization for labor unions, put the blame squarely at May’s door, saying her refusal to rule out that Britain would not leave the EU without a deal on trade relations has put thousands of jobs in jeopardy.
“Workers at Honda must not pay the price for the prime minister playing to the hardliners in her party and we urge Honda to sit down urgently with Unite to discuss a way forward for the plant,” said Frances O’Grady.
Kirka reported from London. Haruka Nuga in Tokyo, Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok and David McHugh in Frankufrt, Germany, contributed to this report.
EU, UK to have more Brexit talks but key disagreement intact
By RAF CASERT and JILL LAWLESS
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Tuesday warned British Prime Minister Theresa May that her trip to EU headquarters to seek an elusive breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations stands no chance of success when it comes to her most important demand.
Reinforcing the message, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear that he had little to no hope that something fruitful would emerge during their evening talks Wednesday and that the stalemate between Britain and the 27 other EU nations would likely continue.
“There is not enough movement for me to able to assume that it will be a productive discussion,” Juncker told reporters in Stuttgart, Germany. “I don’t know what Mrs. May will tell me tomorrow.”
He added that, even after almost two years of talks, “I don’t know what our British friends actually want to have. In the British Parliament, there is always only a majority against something, there is never a majority for something.”
Earlier, Juncker’s spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, had already warned that “the EU27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement,” a condition that many British lawmakers are insisting on before they back a Brexit deal to have Britain leave the bloc on March 29.
U.K. lawmakers’ objections center on a provision for the border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks along the Irish border until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.
May wants to change the deal’s phrasing to make sure that a provision to ensure an open Irish border after Brexit would only apply temporarily.
But the EU refuses to budge and says the 585-page legally binding Brexit agreement is a take-it-or-leave-it document. It is willing to discuss other ways to find a compromise, but has challenged London to come up with concrete proposals.
The British government appears to be pinning its hopes in Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox, who has been trying to come up with new wording that can satisfy both Britain and the EU and could produce an addendum or something “clarifying” the backstop.
Schinas said the talks this week seek “to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the U.K. parliament and respect the guidelines agreed” by the EU nations.
The Brexit deal negotiated between May and the EU last year — and rejected by Britain’s Parliament last month — includes a long transition period after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29 to give time for new trade relations to be set up.
If the U.K. Parliament does not agree on the deal before March 29, Britain risks a chaotic departure that could be costly to businesses and ordinary people on both sides of the Channel.
The uncertainty has already led many firms to shift some operations abroad, stockpile goods or defer investment decisions.
On Tuesday, Honda announced it will close its only U.K. plant in 2021. The automaker said the decision was not directly related to Brexit, but U.K. Business Secretary Greg Clark said “decisions like Honda’s this morning demonstrates starkly how much is at stake.”
Clark, a leading pro-EU voice in May’s Cabinet, said the Brexit-related uncertainty facing businesses was “unacceptable” and “needs to be brought to a conclusion.” Clark said businesses could not wait until “the last minute on March 28” for certainty.
With less than six weeks to go until March 29, chances are growing that Britain will seek to postpone its departure from the EU.
Business Minister Richard Harrington told a manufacturers’ conference Tuesday that if May could not get her deal through Parliament on a second try before March 29, there would likely be “a small extension” to the Brexit deadline so Parliament could come up with a new plan.
But delaying Brexit would require the EU’s approval — and if it is extended too far, that would force Britain to take part in the May 23-26 EU-wide election for the European Parliament. Juncker told the German daily Stuttgarter Zeitung on Tuesday that such a scenario was “difficult to imagine.”
Juncker said it’s up to Britain to decide whether it wants to request a delay to the Brexit date, but that Britain’s departure should take place before the newly elected European Parliament gathers in early July.
Lawless reported from London. Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin
How old is too old to drive?
February 19, 2019
Author: Alice Pomidor, Professor of Geriatrics, Florida State University
Disclosure statement: Alice Pomidor is affiliated with the American Geriatrics Society and editorial board chair for the Clinician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers, a free resource for health care providers.
Partners: Florida State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When Britain’s Prince Philip crashed his Land Rover into another vehicle on Jan. 17, 2019, many people were surprised that he was still driving at age 97. Many thought that surely someone – the queen perhaps? – would have persuaded him to give it up, or would have “taken away” the keys.
Older unsafe drivers are a growing problem, thanks to the baby boom generation. In the U.S., 42 million adults 65 and older were licensed to drive in 2016, an increase of 15 million from 20 years ago.
Yet who wants to stop driving? It is not only a major symbol of independence but also a needed activity for older people to be able to shop, go to the doctor and maintain social connections.
I’m a geriatrics specialist physician, a daughter of parents who had to stop driving. I live in Florida, where 29 percent of our drivers are older adults, which everywhere else in the U.S. will experience about 10 years from now. I also serve as editorial board chair of the Clinician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers, a collaborative project between the American Geriatrics Society and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. I have spent a great deal of time training clinicians how to detect and treat factors leading to the loss of driving skills early enough to prevent crashes and the loss of independent mobility.
Older drivers by the numbers
By 2030, NHTSA estimates that 1 of out of every 4 drivers will be an older adult.
About 7,400 adults ages 65 and older were killed, and more than 290,000 were treated for motor vehicle crash injuries in 2016 alone.
Males 85 years and older and 20-24 years of age have the highest crash rates. Age and experience may be a factor here, but far and away the greatest number of vehicular deaths are still from substance abuse-related crashes, accounting for 23,611 out of a total 37,133 deaths in 2017.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, most older drivers have good driving habits. The CDC reports that many self-restrict their driving to conditions where they feel safe and confident, such as avoiding high-speed roads, nighttime driving, bad weather or high-congestion times of day.
Know the stop signs
Prince Philip announced on Feb. 9, 2019 that he would give up his driver’s license, but only after he and others had suffered serious consequences.
So how can others know when it’s time to get help or stop driving, for ourselves or for our parents, friends and neighbors?
It is all about the skills, not the age.
Key warning signs that it may be time to stop include getting lost, failing to obey traffic signals, reacting slowly to emergencies, using poor judgment, or forgetting to use common safety strategies, such as checking for blind spots.
Vision, cognition and the physical ability to manage the controls to the vehicle are critical functions that we must be able to perform, whether we are young or old in order to drive safely and effectively. Vision is well-recognized as the single most important source of information we use when navigating and making judgments.
Having difficulty with daytime sun glare, as was reported in Prince Philip’s crash, or nighttime headlights, brushing into objects on one side, or having to brake suddenly may be signs that something is impairing our ability to perceive road hazards accurately. Regular vision checkups are important to assure that we keep optimal vision for driving.
Cognition is essential to processing all the information we receive, ignoring distractions, remembering our route, responding to traffic signals and making good decisions. Medications and medical conditions such as sleep apnea, Parkinson’s disease or dementia can stop us from being able to think and respond well enough to keep ourselves or others safe while driving. Getting a good evaluation from your health care provider can help to minimize these risks and flag situations.
Physical abilities such as turning the steering wheel, neck flexibility and detecting where the pedals are correctly are important for operating the vehicle smoothly. Many of the same conditions associated with falls are also related to motor vehicle crashes.
People can take brief self-assessments to get an idea of how they are doing, or ask a trusted individual to rate their driving using a tool validated by on-road testing, and discuss the results.
A driving rehabilitation specialist may be helpful in identifying problem areas, learning strategies for improvement and rehabilitating rusty or lost driving skills. You can find one using national databases on the America Occupational Therapy Association or the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists websites.
It may be tempting to get a new vehicle featuring the latest safety features such as collision avoidance sensors, but these are not a substitute for a driver’s own skills. And, sometimes changing vehicles may even create mild confusion in a driver accustomed to a certain vehicle.
‘Mom, can I take away the keys?’
Adult children often want to protect their parents if they notice impairment. It’s important to have open, respectful communication to establish that maintaining mobility and finding alternative means of transportation are key to retiring from driving. These discussions should occur long before there’s a crisis.
Being willing and able to stop driving requires having a realistic mobility plan. National and local transportation resources can help people get around without driving, but it does take some effort to get used to planning activities well in advance. New skills may be needed, such as learning how to access ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, or someday, managing an autonomous vehicle.
Until then, following basic driving safety strategies and keeping as mentally and physically fit as possible is the best way to help us help ourselves to keep driving for longer.
Steve Crook, logged in via Google: Older unsafe drivers are a growing problem, thanks to the baby boom generation.
Phrasing. There are plenty of reasons why older drivers are a problem, being a baby boomer isn’t one of them.
New skills may be needed, such as learning how to access ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, or someday, managing an autonomous vehicle.
In Dorset in the UK, where, other than some favoured routes, busses are not plentiful, taxis are expensive and few towns or villages are served by rail. Advance planning won’t save you if there’s no service.
Many elderly people are being forced to make a hard choice between social isolation and driving. Few that I know (of 80 and above) drive because they want to, they do it because not doing so means giving up on a large chunk of their independence and social activity.
Others living in more rural locations face a choice of driving or having to move out of a home they know and love to a city or town where they have no social network.
In any event, to deprive someone of a license based only on their age seems rather unfair. Much better to be tested every five years after retirement age. I suspect a different driving test might be required, emphasising things that can deteriorate with age, depth perception, confidence, reaction times.
Older people tend to drive less, perhaps regular sessions on a VR driving simulator might help keep their skills up-to-date so they’re less nervous & hesitant on the road.
Alice Pomidor, Professor of Geriatrics, Florida State University: In reply to Steve Crook, Thanks for your observations. Your comments are a great description of the core problems transportation access, especially issues in rural areas, which are true for many age groups in the US as well. Being a baby boomer itself is indeed not a problem, it’s that there are so many arriving at older age at the same time which is bringing to light system issues in many aspects of society.
It’s very fair to say that decisions about licensing should not be based on age alone, but rather on skills as mentioned above. Licensing tests in the US tend to target minimum basic maneuvers needed for beginning drivers and in most states are not well-equipped to detect problems in the areas of emphasis you mention. Some progress is being made, and the Clinician’s Guide for Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers has various tests and strategies to help detect problem areas that might be improved.
While driving simulators do indeed give more opportunities to practice, work still must be done to prove that virtual skills translate to the actual roadway. They have been proven to improve the acquisition of skills with air plane pilots, but whether simulator practice can help maintain skills which are being lost is a bit different matter.
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