News : UK car manufacturing continues to fall back

British car factories turned out 120,649 units in January, down 18.2% on the previous year and marking the eighth successive month of decline, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Demand dropped at home and overseas but it was the latter that fell most, with exports down 21.4% to 93,781 units.

Further softening in key Asian and European markets drove much of the decline, with output destined for China down 72.3% and the EU 20.0%, while model changes also played a significant part. Meanwhile, manufacturing for the domestic market fell by 4.8% as political uncertainty continued to dent consumer confidence.

EU remains industry’s biggest trading partner

UK car production is softening, as this cumulative chart clearly shows.
UK car production is softening, as these numbers clearly show

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, says, ‘another month of decline is a serious concern. The industry faces myriad challenges, from falling demand in key markets, to escalating global trade tensions and the need to stay at the forefront of future technology. But, the clear and present danger remains the threat of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which is monopolising time and resources, undermining competitiveness.

‘Every day a ‘no deal’ Brexit remains a possibility is another day automotive companies pay the price in additional and potentially pointless costs. ‘No deal’ must be taken off the table immediately and permanently.

‘Almost a third of automotive companies responding to a recent SMMT survey said they had postponed or cancelled UK investment decisions because of Brexit, with one in five having already lost business as a direct consequence. Over half said that contingency plans were being executed, with more than one in ten (12.4%) relocating operations overseas and the same proportion reducing UK headcount.’

[Source: SMMT]

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

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Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

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Keith Adams

46 Comments

  1. I think that things are going to get a lot worse,Toyota have announced that the Avenesis is not to be replaced Mini are building more cars at Ned Car in Holland & Steyr Magma are building the Jaguar E-Pace as well. I convinced that after the UK leaves the EU that car manufacturers will not be willing to risk the fluctuations of the pound and euro coupled with the uncertainty of import duties incurred by both finished cars and components into the EU that will nullify any productive gains by manufacturing in the UK. Both Nissan & Toyota have plants scattered over the EU and I could easily envisage most production being transferred there. Honda is slightly different but it has other plants in Mexico & the US that could be used. I don’t fancy the chances Vauxhall/Opel Elsmere Port plant much either after all when PSA took over Chrysler Europe the Linwood plant closed within a few years and Ryton closed in the first decade of this century. Sorry to seem so pessimistic but I can’t honestly see much of a future for vehicle manufacturing in Blighty and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a couple of decades apart from a few specialist manufacturers that there won’t be much going on here at all.

    • Nobody buys the Avensis anyway. The E-Pace is built at Steyr as JLR didn’t have any UK capacity. As it happens, Halewood production has slightly slipped as the Evoque declines as it nears its replacement, but that replacement should boost sales. Cowley is full, that’s why BMW use Nedcar.

      UK car sales were artificially high for many years due to the incredible finance deals which boosted sales despite the slowdown in household income, at some points sales had to slow, even without Brexit. Then you have the diesel fiasco which adds uncertainty. Finally, Ellesmere port suffers slightly through producing the wrong model now. I don’t trust PSA and their intentions for the UK, especially they closed down Ryton in the mid 2000s when we were run by the EU friendly Tony Blair…

  2. Maybe we are building the wrong kind of vehicle in the UK, do people want perfectly good Astras from Ellesmere Port or Jaguar saloons from Halewood or even dependable Hondas from Swindon? Our car buying tastes are changing and going into chaos with all the choice of multi purpose vehicles and suspicion of diesel. Meanwhile there doesn’t seem to be the appetite to turn things round with active lobbying to build a SUV or get Kia to build a factory on Teesside or South Wales. Thank you Nissan for exporting all those Leafs to Norway and making cars people want! And Toyota too!

  3. With Britain’s economy seemingly being about ‘services’ and financial speculation and with the uncertainties introduced by the falsely marketed Brexit, this is hardly surprising news. Of course the effect will be seen in British job losses rather than lost British profits as most motor manufacturing is overseas owned.
    It is sad that Britain can’t run an economy that allows the long term planning required for the jobs provided by ownership of large scale industrial manufacturing. Isn’t it more than a little ridiculous that in an economy the size of Britain’s, that the largest British owned manufacturer is now Morgan,( and they’re doing very well, with no exposure to machinations of the sharemarket and City moneymen).

    • I’m sorry, it isn’t falsely marketed. Manufacturing is trans-national, parts cross borders multiple times. The world that older brexit supporters want has gone and is not coming back.

      A car plant can be shutdown and moved to another country extremely quickly. You cannot put up barriers between ourselves and EU supply chains without consequences.

      I get that brexit voters are nostalgic for the world as it was, I can understand that. Voting for brexit won’t bring that world back.

      • My thoughts as well.

        If anything, voting for a supposedly winding things back to the time “I’m Alright Jack” is even less likely to make it come back.

  4. The main problem is, over 40 per cent of cars produced in Britain in recent years have been diesels. Now diesels have been shown as bad for the environment and are to be banned eventually, and manufacturers are switching to hybrid and electric cars, there’s bound to be a slowdown as factories switch over to the new technologies. Sad thing is most Land Rover production has been of diesel cars, and a changeover will be expensive and could hit production.
    Another thing, I’d be wary of Peugeot’s intentions with Ellesmere Port and the Vauxhall badge in general as they could see it as another Linwood, an isolated factory producing one model, and close it and rebadge Vauxhalls as Opels. In the great scheme of things, I can see Opel being used as a downmarket brand, with production moved to Spain and Eastern Europe.

  5. PCPs! Won’t someone mention PCPs! They’ve given a really artificial boost to new car sales over the past few years, as people who’ve never considered buying new, suddenly did for the first time.

    But renewal time comes, and suddenly they realise that they can’t get an equivalent new car for the same money, so do they downsize, or stick with what they’ve got? What will the neighbours think when the A3 becomes a Polo… There was a feature on BBC’s Moneybox about it – you have to spend quite a lot more now to replace a premium car with the same model.

    • All this pant-wetting over PCPs! They’re not a new thing, Ford’s “Options” PCP scheme has been around since 1992. They used to bug me, but these days I find it easier not to waste any mental energy on how other people finance their cars.

      I’m happy owning my cars outright, but if people want to do PCPs, then good luck to ’em 🙂

      • Thank you!
        PCP Really is just one more finance option to pay for a new car and there have been ways of buying new cars in the never-never going back to virtually the very beginning. If the car industry had ever had to rely on cash purchasers it would have packed up and gone home long before virtually all of us were born!
        Besides, at least when the car is financed a buyer has the finance company on side if a rejection is needed (a contract hire company was completely on my side when I had to reject a year old C5) and with PCP the finance company shares a great deal of the risk if there’s catastrophic depreciation involved (back to the C5 again!).

  6. @ Rob, One of my friends has bought a new Kia Rio on a PCP. He used his Peugeot 207 as a deposit, and pays £ 200 a month with free servicing for 3 years. When the 3 years ends, he has the option of handing the car back, or paying £ 4000 to keep it. It’s a no brainer as under the old system, such a car would be too expensive for him.

  7. I agree with Glenn’s concerns about the PSA ownership of Vauxhall & Opel, though recent Vauxhall advertising has pushed the tagline “British brand since 1903”. I too fear that the Opel name will replace Vauxhall. Hard for me to come to terms with as GM owned Vauxhall for just about all my life.

    • I have a fear that Vauxhall or Opel could become like a Talbot type brand, producing cars with aged technology built to a price and probably made in Eastern Europe to keep costs down. This would be a big slap in the face to Opel in particular who were known in the past for making some desirable cars like the Senator and the Monza, but there again Talbot was originally known as an upmarket brand before the 1979 revival.
      Mind you, Peugeot and Citroen, away from the DS brand, aren’t doing too well and Citroens now seem completely bland and forgettable, while the only Peugeots I see locally in big numbers are the 108 and 3008 people carrier. Perhaps some large scale rationalisation could happen here as well, with Peugeot maybe becoming a premium brand like it once was and Citroen reduced to making superminis.

    • To me honest I’m not especially bothered by the Vauxhall “brand”, keeping their UK factories is far more important. A Crossland X is a dull Spanish made crossover on a PSA platform, whether badged Vauxhall or Opel, while the Grandland X crossover is even made in a French PSA factory.

      • That’s what I expected maestrowolf. Sadly, the days of totally British designed & built Vauxhall’s has passed. The Victor/VX FE series were the last of the breed. I expect all future Vauxhall’s & Opel’s to be engineered and badged in this way.

    • I have similar concerns, the French buy French, no matter what the product. However, Opel sold under that brand in the UK for a time (going back to the Kadet and Cavalier), but they withdrew in favour of Vauxhall. But have you ever seen what is under a Vauxhall front grill badge on a car transporter?… the Opel lightning flash. I suspect the Vauxhall front badge gets fitted by the dealer. Its all about branding, and Vauxhall still has the edge over Opel brand. I’m very pleased to say that all 4 of my cars are British built, but how long that will remain the case – hmmmm. (A Jag, A Civic,+ 2 old MGs).

      • Yes, I’ve seen the odd Vauxhall Insignia with the chrome Griffin badge missing revealing the black OPEL logo underneath. All my life I’ve associated Vauxhall under GM ownership, till now. Having them owned by PSA still takes getting used to – as does MG being Chinese built vehicles nowadays

  8. Could be right Glenn. As you say, the Opel Senator & Monza / Vauxhall Royale’s were nice looking big cars… badged as Vauxhall of course. I do hope the Vauxhall brand & badge will continue, it was my Dad’s first car back in the early 60s

  9. PPI compensation was putting a lot of money into people’s pockets and that has now dried up. This and the clampdown on PCPs means there will be a hiatus until all those new cars wear out and need replacing. This has always been a highly cyclical industry and the good news is that, so far, foreign sales are holding up, and this is 8-% of production, so the fall can only go so far. Personally, I don’t think Brexit has anything to do with it. The plain fact is the money is just not flowing like it was; all good things come to an end as Grannie used to say, and any manufacturer thinking sales will always carry on at a very high level is being foolish IMHO

  10. Well its what they voted for and just as things seemed to be going so well. If there is one thing the British are absolutely brilliant at, its shooting themselves in the foot driven by bitterness, spite, delusions of grandeur on a grand scale and a complete detachment from reality.

  11. Fraser Mitchell’s analysis seems to be highly pertinent . There comes a point in the cycle where the market is saturated, and that can be exacerbated by additional factors such as uncertainty over future propulsion methods

  12. why is the chairman and managing director of Ford UK having a say about the British automotive industry, they don’t even build vehicles there although they make drivetrains still

  13. Interesting news out of the USA where Ford confirmed that they are all but axing their “passenger car” lineup (Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Taurus) leaving just Mustang, a Focus crossover and the rest crossovers / full fat SUVs.

    • What will the impact be on the UK car market? Will Ford continue to develop the Mondeo for the European market, if it can no longer count on annual Fusion sales of 200k+ in America?

      • With the Fusion being axed Auto Express is placing a question mark over the Mondeo after the shortly upcoming facelift, though they are the red-top tabloid of the motoring media.

        They do quote a Ford spokesperson who suggests that the Mondeo is still import to their European range.

        I’d say a replacement – if any – would probably look to the East, China where large saloon cars are still popular – albeit they are getting a real appetite for SUVs too.

        Though given that we have already lost the Accord, Citroen C5 and soon to lose the Avensis, they could just quietly not replace it.

        • The new mondeo will be built as they still sell around 20,000 of these in Europe each year – just it will be based on a Lincoln / Chinese designed model instead of the current “American” designed car (though European designers and engineers created it).

          • They don’t quote any sources, but TTAC said the following:
            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/04/ford-stopping-production-cars-sooner-probably-imagined/

            “The only foggy patch involves the Fusion, which is supposed to stick around for a while longer. Our Fusion’s European counterpart, the Mondeo, has been seen sporting upgraded panels and was originally slated for a complete redesign for the 2021 model year. But plans for that appear to have been postponed, if not scrapped entirely. It now seems that the Mondeo will get a visual refresh sometime in the near future and end production shortly thereafter.”

            End of the road for big Fords? What would a modern day Jack Regan be chauffeured about in? (Ignoring the movie with the Focus ST hot hatch)

  14. This presumably means those American Fords carrying a Ford badge, as Lincoln still produces conventional cars in the luxury sector. It does seem in America that ” passenger cars” ( ie conventional saloons and hatchbacks) made by the big three seem to be mostly muscle cars like the Mustang and premium brand cars like Lincolns, Chryslers,and Cadillacs. If you want a mass produced four door sedan at a lower price, most likely you’ll be buying a Honda or Toyota.

    • That’s exactly it, just those ‘Ford’ badged vehicles. Lincolns and the likes can command a premium, last I read they had a plan to facelift the continental with suicide doors…

      Some commenters on The Truth About Cars are questioning why Toyota and Honda can still make a profit on passenger cars but Ford cannot.

      • IIRC Ford are stymied in the USA by having to pay healthcare & company pensions to workers, supposedly they had a cost analysis run on Volvo & found it would be cheaper to make cars in Sweden then in Detroit!

      • Some commenters on TTAC are total nutjobs, but they’ve got a point regarding Ford’s profitability on mainstream cars selling 200k+ units annually.

        Used to enjoy TTAC, but I read it less these days, since they cut back on the Jack Baruth articles.

      • Americans aren’t particularly bothered about passenger cars made by the big three now, unless they’re V8 muscle cars to remind them of the good old days, or premium products. The country’s best selling car is a pick up truck, and the top ten is dominated by pick up trucks and SUVs and large( by our standards) Hondas and Toyotas that are mostly made in America now, which buries the patriotism argument about buying these cars.

  15. The government’s idiot war on diesels can’t be helping. We could have gradually shifted the market to petrol and electric. Giving our car companies a chance to shift to making those engines and vehicles.

    Instead the government listened to shrill Guardian types that demanded instant action and came out with why won’t you think of the children non-sense. This created a panic as motorists feared new ripoff charges and taxes. A collapse in sales, which has hurt our car industry.

    So unnecessary, when natural wastage would have got rid of the most polluting cars anyway.

    • The idiot war on diesels was not by the Govt, it was by the car makers who wilfully chose to deceive consumers and authorities over toxic xhaust emissions level. If the deceit had been for the braking system performance and not the emissions system, would you be so keen to back the car makers?

  16. Its pretty obvious that the dip in UK sales and output has been driven by the tax change that took place last April and skewed the market for the next 12 months when using the annual change in each months sales as a marker. Now we have past March that has dropped out of the equation and hey presto sales are on the up again!

  17. The loss of car making in UK, eg Honda Swindon, is a matter of regret, but the many car worker jobs are for repair servicing and maintenance, and those jobs apply irrespective of the country of assembly of the car

  18. Japan has recently negotiated the phasing out of the tariff for cars and car components exported from Japan to the Eu, I believe that tariff is 10% and will decrease to o%.
    The dismantling of the tariff barrier is a nail in the coffin for Honda Swindon etc, and without the protection of tariffs, every volume car maker and component supplier in the Eu should be fearing the competition from Japan

    • On the flip side EU manufactures will be able to sell their cars in Japan tariff free so things should balance out to a degree.

  19. Italy banned Japanese cars in the seventies, and France restricted them to 3% of the market, which offered massive protection to their car manufactuers, but also denied buyers access to more reliable and better value Japanese cars. This was one of the reasons Japanese companies set up factories in the EU, but now with no tariffs, there isn’t such a big incentive to produce cars in the EU.

    • When the Triumph Acclaim was announced the French & Italian governments tried to block it as seen to a rule bending exercise.

      About 20 years later the French government had changed tack by enticing Toyota to open a factory in France when they wanted to built the Yaris in Europe.

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