British car production plummets

UK car industry’s lowest output since Second World War highlights need for gov’t support

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British car manufacturing has taken a massive hit amid the coronavirus epidemic, after new figures reveal that in April, production figures plummeted by 99.7 per cent.

The latest data represents the lowest production output for the industry since the Second World War, according to industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), with a fewer 127,000 cars built.

Car manufacturing plants in the UK have been effectively shut down since the lockdown first began at the end of March, with tens of thousands of workers furloughed. But as the lockdown has eased, car manufacturing workers will slowly begin returning to work. It is estimated that about half of all car and engine plants will be up and running from the end of May.

But with strict social distancing measures still in place, output will be severely affected – the SMMT predicts a loss of 400,000 units by the end of the year. A separate analysis predicts that UK car manufacturers could fall below one million units in 2020, which would be less than in 2009 just after the global financial crash.

While the UK car industry screeched to a halt in the last few months, many manufacturers switched to producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment to help in the national effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers in car manufacturing have produced more than 700,000 units of PPE to date, with others manufacturing high-tech ventilators as part of the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium.

The latest figures from the SMMT come as Nissan this week announced a global restructuring of its business that, while saving the plant in Sunderland, has entailed the closure of a plant in Barcelona. The car giant indicated that ‘efficiency savings’ will have to be at other sites, which Unite said cannot come at the expense of pay or terms and conditions.

Commenting on the latest figures, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes highlighted the challenges the British car industry faces in the months and years ahead.

“With the UK’s car plants mothballed in April, these figures aren’t surprising but they do highlight the tremendous challenge the industry faces, with revenues effectively slashed to zero last month,” he said. “Manufacturers are starting to emerge from prolonged shutdown into a very uncertain world and ramping up production will be a gradual process, so we need government to work with us to accelerate this fundamentally strong sector’s recovery, stimulate investment and safeguard jobs.

“Support to get all businesses through this short-term turmoil will ensure the UK’s many globally-renowned brands can continue to make the products that remain so desirable to consumers the world over and, in turn, help deliver long-term prosperity for Britain,” he added.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner agreed and emphasised the need for urgent government support.

“We urgently need a sector plan to support the UK’s world class auto industry through this crisis,  with investment to defend jobs and support a just transition to electrification,” he said.

 “The French and German governments have wasted no time in getting behind their manufacturing workers.  They are using this shutdown to intervene, with taxpayer support, in return for a transition to a greener, innovative domestic industry, and support for resilient local supply chains, to emerge on the other side,” Turner added.

“The UK government needs to match this ambition, proudly talking up our manufacturing champions and working with unions to recover and meet the challenges of the future, sustaining and creating quality jobs and apprenticeships.

 “The one upside from the SMMT’s report is the revelation of the extent of the auto industry’s contribution to battling this deadly virus.  Car workers quickly adapted to produce the safety kit desperately needed by our NHS and key workers.  The speed with which they moved from producing cars to producing PPE and ventilators demonstrates the skills of this workforce and their value to our country. We must not let this asset and these skills be lost.”

By Hajera Blagg

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