News : UK car production falls to lowest level for 66 years

UK car production dropped to its lowest level since 1956, according to new figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Last year, the UK produced 775,014 cars, only slightly more than the 707,594 units produced in 1956, when the country was still recovering from World War 2.

In 2022, the SMMT says the global chip shortage was to blame for the poor production figures. However, the loss of production at Honda in Swindon, the impact of supply chain issues in China and Brexit trade friction have also played their part.

Year-on-year, UK car production declined by 9.8% in 2022, with 84,561 fewer units built than during the previous year, and was 40.5% off the 1,303,135 cars made in 2019, equivalent to a loss of more than half a million cars.

Electric and hybrid successes

UK factories turned out a record 234,066 electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid electric vehicles. Total EV production rose 4.8%, with hybrid volumes up 4.3%. The SMMT says that boosting output of these vehicles will be critical in the attainment of net zero, for both the UK and major overseas markets, and the correct direction for the future.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of the SMMT, said: ‘These figures reflect just how tough 2022 was for UK car manufacturing, though we still made more electric vehicles than ever before – high value, cutting edge models, in demand around the world.’

He continued: ‘The potential for this sector to deliver economic growth by building more of these zero emission models is self-evident, however, we must make the right decisions now. This means shaping a strategy to drive rapid upscaling of UK battery production and the shift to electric vehicles based on the UK automotive sector’s fundamental strengths .’

In 2022, EV, PHEV and HEV exports were worth more than £10 billion. As a result, electrified vehicles represent 44.7% of the value of all UK car exports.

Keith Adams

45 Comments

  1. Terribly depressing news. And I don’t know if or how this trend can be reversed without finally admitting that the B word was a terrible idea.

    • Strange. My wife’s new Vauxhall Corsa has a manufacturer’s plate indicating that it was made in Kenitra, Morocco. That’s not in the EU, is it? You need to stop reading the Guardian.

      • The difference is that Morocco has and continues to strive for a close trade relationship through alignment with the EU of its standards via its Euro-Mediterranean Agreement.

        The UK, determined to go its own way declined such a relationship with the EU insisting on 3rd Nation Status so that we were free to deviate when and wherever we thought was appropriate.

        Thus our exports into the EU are subject to 3rd Nation Checks to ensure they are fully compliant with EU standards because there is no provision in the UK law to ensure those standards are met.

        • My take on this is that standards such as used in the automotive industry differ in various markets. You build cars to meet specific emission or safety standards in specific markets. That’s why it’s difficult for an individual to register a new US specification car in Europe (not just the EU). As a manufacturer, if necessary you go through a body like NQA to obtain the necessary compliance certificates. There are plenty of cars built in the UK that end up in the EU (Nissan, Mini, Toyota, Land Rover, etc.). Brexit is being used as an excuse for all sorts of issues, but the fact remains that even large corporations such as Unilever decided to leave the EU (i.e. NL) and move their HQ to the UK in the aftermath of Brexit.

          • Everything you write is irrelevant to the issue in hand, the issue is that thanks to your self imposed trade sanctions for Brexit it is much harder to export into world’s largest and richest market for UK Manufacturers, With the only tangible benefits in return of being able to buy a 1200W+ vacuum cleaner and sparkling wine in plastic bottles.

            Unilever did not move to the UK, it just restructured into a single UK entity instead of its historic dual UK Dutch structure. It has nothing to do with Brexit and could and almost certainly would have happened without Brexit. However Brexit was a factor in Unilever closing its Warrington washing powder factory to consolidate production in the EU.

        • Morocco most certainly does strive for alignment, Google “Qatargate” if you are not aware of a group Eu Commissioners arrested for a rather nice “alignment” with Morocco and Qatar

    • Lets face it Brexit can hardly of helped, but to what extent its to blame is difficult to establish. There is a steaming great melting pot of Covid, governments stewardship of the economy, supply chain shortages and Brexit here. I do suspect the government and vote leaves backsides have been given some cover by the events that have followed Brexit. Without those I suspect pitch forks would now be at the ready to get them and we would be banging on the EU’s door for single market access.

    • Hardly thriving before the B-word! The EU incentivised the moving of Transit production from Dagenham overseas whilst a member! Funny how when in the club you have to follow the rules until the rules don’t suit Germany, then they do as they wish!

  2. Bad, but as has been poihted out on here before, France produces far fewer cars than in the eighties, with the majority of French badged cars being made in Eastern Europe, and Fiat only make their upmarket brands( Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari) in Italy. It’s not just a British thing and new car sales have been hammered by the pandemic and shortages of semiconductors.

  3. Forget the number of vehicles, what is the value of them, and the profits per vehicle.

    The vanity of volume over profits is what sunk BMC/BL in times past. Better to sell 100,000 cars at 20% profit than 500,000 cars and only cover the production costs.

  4. Although we did worse than France, with production falling 40% in the UK (2022 versus 2019), compared with 28.6% in France for the same period, we had the best year in a decade for commercial vehicles, producing over 100,000. As for Brexit, it probably just needs a re-gas…

    I find the SMMT’s site fascinating, especially their Industry Topics section.

    • @ Charles, the van industry is doing quite well as the Vauxhall Vivaro is a big seller and the Luton factory also assembles Citroen and Peugeot vans. Ellesmere Port might have stopped making the Astra, which to be fair wasn’t selling well by the end of British production, but the factory has been turned over to producing small electric vans and an electric version of the Citroen Berlingo and a Vauxhall version of the Berlingo.

  5. The Telegraph are reporting that JLR are profitable again, despite much reduced sales, because they are selling a lot of expensive Range Rovers and RR Sports

  6. In a way it’s even worse than it sounds. 1956 was a very bad year due to Suez which involved petrol rationing and a boycott of British cars in some export markets (like Sweden).
    1955 production of 897,000 cars was a lot higher than 1956 – and a lot higher than 2022.

    Having said that – it’s a very rich product mix nowadays so the picture in value terms is doubtless better than in volume terms.
    200,000 Jaguar Land Rover and 30,000 luxury brand (Bentley etc) cars built in 2022 must have an equivalent value to around 600,000 “normal” cars …. which should be borne in mind when making comparisons internationally – or with the distant past.

    • That’s just what I was thinking. 1956 was an outlier in a decade of growth. 2022 is starting to look like a trend.

  7. Sadly manufacturing motor-vehicles is not an easy business to be in nowadays, and I do wonder which one of the big names will be the first to go to the wall.
    Personally I think that the drive to eradicate ICE powered vehicles is wrong, and therefore the insistence of everyone moving to BEV only is very short-sighted and based on ill-informed ‘experts’ and misinformation. That uncertainty added to component supply problems is banging more nails into the coffin of motor-manufacturers.
    Sorry to sound like a Moaning Minnie, I have classed myself as a car enthusiast for the last 66 years, and I am eternally grateful to websites such as this where I can wallow in stories from time gone by where cars were interesting, but sadly I feel there is less to look forward to in the future, than we have to look back on from the past.

  8. The move to EV’s is driven by the CO2 targets the car manufacturers have to reach. EV’s enable them to go on selling ICE cars, it’s as simple as that. Not reaching the CO2 targets leads to massive penalties – I know what I’m talking about as I had to follow the topic for many years in Switzerland for a well known brand which is also producing cars in Britain.

  9. The big issue is that we have no UK owned car manufacturers and few manufacturing multi-nationals. When we flog off our family silver we lose control. We should be supporting internal investment rather than going hand in hand to inward investment and selling our businesses. Where the car is made is important but also where the company is based and where the profits and IP reside.

    • As you say, we have asset stripped our own economy. It is hard to invest when the idiot government in London has destroyed everything.

    • Absolutely, for the past 40 odd years everything has been up for sale in Britain. We’ve outsourced, off shored and flogged off anything that does or doesnt move from manufacturing industry to public utilities and now the chickens are coming home to roost. I find it so ironic that the political classes that oversaw this state of affairs then have the brass neck to use the tag line take back control to promote Brexit!

      • Even more ironic were many trade unionists & others on the far left jumped into bed with them over Brexit! They seemed to have swallowed the same propaganda that public ownership of businesses would be easier out of the EU!

  10. So should they start reading a quality balanced paper, the Daily Mail, Kurt!
    Anybody with any reasonable rational judgement of economics knows that Brexit has been a disaster for the UK economy. Just do your research! You can cling on to your flawed ideology for as long as you like, but it won’t bring the economy back. I can accept that as you lot are continuing to lose the Brexit argument that you can only respond with petty comments such as this, but perhaps one day Kurt you may finally realise or maybe you will continue to blame our predicament on covid, or Putin blah blah blah!

    • Thank you for your encouraging words, Adam. I can honestly say that my post-Brexit income has not suffered, despite the fact that some 70% of my clients are in Germany, 5% in Switzerland, and the balance in the US.

  11. I’m afraid that on any rational basis, Brexit has so far had few advantages and has caused a number of problems. I would be surprised if the situation improves any time soon.

  12. The world was hit by a massive pandemic that shut down large parts of thr world during 2021 and 2021, caused immense didruption to the world’s economy, and just as things seemed to be returning to normal in early 2022, an energy crisis started. Not forgetting Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine( that cause a large part of the energy crisis), a shortage of semiconductors and massive inflation that are causing problems all over the world. Germany might be held up as some great country, but they’ve suffered even worse inflation than us, their economy is in recession and their rail system is just as big a joke as ours and hit by strikes.

  13. Glenn, oh mate…..
    Germany isn’t in recession and their inflation rate has been/is 2+% lower than ours.
    Yes, the world economy has taken a hit due to various factors and people can deflect as much as they want to, but the cold hard facts are that we’re the only country to ever impose economic sanctions upon itself, hence why we are where we are.

  14. The whole car market is up in the air at the moment, and not just in the UK. Ford are laying off yet more workers across Europe as production of the Fiesta comes to an end, and’s Ford’s future cars become VW based.

    • I didn’t know Fords future cars would be VW based… though I guess anything can happen these days. I never imagined Vauxhall would become part of PSA either. I see the future of car designs being restricted to electric SUV’s and Crossovers – sadly no nice hatchbacks, saloons or Estates.

      • Ford will produce cars at Cologne based on the electric VW ID platform, while in return VW mid sized vans will in future be derived from the Transit.

        Fiesta production will stop this year, Focus production in 2025. The Puma will continue.

        • Thanks maestrowoff… Sad to hear the Fiesta & Focus days are numbered. I have owned 4 Focus’s and still have one. The Fiesta was on my list next time. There’s not much left that I fancy buying now…including the Puma

  15. Cut yourself from your main export market and more importantly, the ability to bring in components without redtape and your car industry declines. I am shocked, next you will be telling me the pope is a Catholic.

    I know I will get shouted down by loads of people who think that leaving the EU is wonderful but the majority of them will be retired and frankly it is easy not to carw about the economic damaged caused by brexit, if you can hide behind a triple locked pension.

  16. In 1979 we were fully fledged members of the EEC, didn’t stop the “winter of discontent” or prevent the UK from going begging to the EMF. The problem with Britain is that it is governed by people who are too scared to be proud of our nation state and too willing to sell us down the river. We possess, as a nation, some of the finest minds and greatest talent in the world but we just choose to lie back and piss it up the wall.
    A simple web search of patents & inventions will back this up, what we as a nation (or more to the point our government and industry) did not do was CAPITALISE on our expertise.
    “Modern Britain” legacy.. short term gain, long term pain. A mindset that is focussed on the centre of administration (Westminster) that cannot see beyond the M25, political parties that invest too much effort in scoring points off each other than fixing what is wrong.
    Time for change I feel.

  17. The market changed from discount “buyer-led ” to “seller-led” ie full retail price, , VW manufactures fewer cars, yet profits rocketed, profit per unit up by a big margin, do not shed tears for the car makers, they are crocodiles.

  18. Obviously it is sad that a large part of the car industry has gone and factories like Longbridge are often retail parks and housing estates, but surely the cars that are produced in the UK are far more desirable, profitable and attractive to export markets than the cars made in the seventies and early eighties. Back then, the British car industry was becoming a parochial backwater making cars for the company car market like the Cortina, that had little export potential, or British Leyland products that were becoming a joke across Europe. Surely selling 100,000 Range Rovers is more profitable than 100,000 Marinas.

  19. It’s ironic Keith that a lot of problems in the UK today caused by too much flag waving to cover up the incompetence of certain politicians. It’s amazing how much people keep an “I’m alright Jack” attitude until they are hit personally in the wallet! Ironically too many people were fooled into thinking they were getting change, only to end up with something even far worse!

    Ironically Alec Issigonis being left on a too short a lead at times lead to many problems with BMC, though at the other end of the scale designers being compromised by having to use outdated components happend too many times!

  20. The British car industry now is completely focussed on what buyers want, such as stylish superminis( the BMW Mini), crossovers, SUVs and luxury products like Bentleys. The days of family cars like the Cortina that were mostly sold to fleets and the older patriotic car buyer who’d buy a British car regardless are over. Buyers now want their cars to be stylish, contemporary, loaded with standard equipment and reliable, and what remains of the British car industry largely delivers this. ( I know there are some adverse comments about Land Rover products, but they still sell in huge numbers, so most buyers must he happy).
    I know we no longer have the huge car plants at Longbridge, Canley and Luton, but factories like Nissan in Sunderland employ 8000 workers and are so productive they produce a new car every minute. Also the once strike ridden Cowley, now Plant Oxford, produces the world’s most desirable small car that truly is a successor to the sixties Mini.

  21. Fair comment from Glenn. However I am showing my age when I say I preferred the cars of the 1960s to 2000! The current generation of SUVs & Crossovers doesn’t excite me and I am truly not sure what car I will replace my Focus with.

    On that note may I wish everyone a Happy New Year 2024 and hope ARonline is still with us!

    • @ Hilton D, I’m very much of your era, being a big fan of two and four door saloons, hatchbacks, sports coupes and estate cars. However, just as hatchbacks replaced smaller saloon cars in the eighties, and some people disliked this trend back then as well, the market clearly wants crossovers and SUVs over medium sized family cars. Luckily people carriers seem to have mostly died out, as many of these were like vans with windows.
      Anyway happy new year to you.

  22. Thanks Glenn… indeed I was not a fan of people carriers either. Looks like my next car may have to be a crossover, though the VW Golf and Skoda Scala still appeal. Cheers for 2024.

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