- auto industry - BMW - Germany
AFP - German automaker BMW said on Monday that it would shed 850 workers at its plant in Cowley, England, where it makes the Mini, as the global economic slowdown hits demand for the iconic car.
In a statement, BMW said contracted agency workers on the weekend shift would be affected by the 19-percent downsizing that will come into force on March 2 when the plant begins operating five days a week instead of seven.
"While Mini has been weathering the economic downturn, it is not immune from the challenges of the current situation," it said.
"Against this backdrop the company felt that a review of its shift patterns was necessary," it said, adding: "This decision has not been taken lightly."
BMW, which is struggling in its key North American market, previously said that its overall 2008 vehicle sales were down five percent from the year before.
Sales of the Mini -- which celebrates its 50th anniversary in August -- were down by 35 percent in January.
As a result, BMW had already decided to halt production of Minis at Cowley, near London, from Monday for one week. Ahead of the downsizing, Cowley employs about 4,500 workers.
Last week, German-owned luxury car brand Bentley said it would axe 220 jobs and temporarily cut pay for retained staff by a tenth as it battles sliding sales.
Meanwhile Jaguar and Nissan have announced major job cuts in Britain in recent weeks, while Honda is closing its factory in Swindon, western England, for four months.
In January, the government unveiled a 2.3-billion-pound (3.3-billion-dollar, 2.6-billion-euro) support package for Britain's ailing auto industry.
Sales of new cars in Britain tumbled by more than 30 percent in January as the recession slashed demand for new vehicles, trade data has showed.