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UK car manufacturing plummets to worst showing since 1984

Image credit: Dreamstime

UK car production declined by nearly a third (-29.3 per cent) in 2020, to less than a million units made, with the coronavirus pandemic, and to a lesser extent Brexit, being blamed for the decline.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 920,928 units rolled off production lines last year, the lowest total since 1984 for UK car makers.

Lockdowns and social-distancing measures restricted factory output throughout the UK, while Brexit uncertainty continued until Christmas Eve. The market for new cars was also severely depressed in key export destinations around the world.

Even amid the global pandemic, exports continued to drive UK car manufacturing, with more than eight in 10 of all cars made shipped overseas and the EU remained the UK’s biggest export destination.

Shipments to the US, Japan and Australia all fell, down -33.7, -21.6 and -21.8 per cent respectively. Exports to China, however, ended the year up 2.3 per cent, and those to South Korea and Taiwan also rose 3.6 and 16.7 per cent respectively as these nations dealt with Covid outbreaks more effectively.

Fully electric and hybrid vehicles represented the largest proportion of new car production, making up 18.8 per cent of all cars made in Britain, up from 14.8 per cent a year before. The UK ultimately produced 172,857 alternatively fuelled vehicles, with 79.6 per cent of these exported.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “These figures, the worst in a generation, reflect the devastating impact of the pandemic on UK automotive production, with Covid lockdowns depressing demand, shuttering plants and threatening lives and livelihoods.

“The industry faces 2021 with more optimism, however, with a vaccine being rolled out and clarity on how we trade with Europe, which remains by far our biggest market.

“The immediate challenge is to adapt to the new conditions, to overcome the additional customs burdens and regain our global competitiveness while delivering zero emission transport.”

UK production is expected to recover somewhat in 2021, with around one million units expected. Although this recovery is contingent on the extent of Covid measures in both the UK and abroad and the speed with which showrooms can reopen.

Lucy Powell, shadow business and consumers minister, said: “This vital industry should be at the heart of our country’s recovery. Labour has called for months for the government to accelerate investment in battery technology and charging infrastructure to help boost our manufacturers’ competitiveness and tackle the climate emergency.”

In November, it emerged that car manufacturers across the UK spent more than £735m on preparations for Brexit. 

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