Latest UK car production figures 'worst in a generation'

Unite: plummeting car production figures must act as government wake-up call

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UK car production last year plummeted by almost a third to fewer than one million cars, the biggest slump since 1984.

New car industry figures highlight the massive toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on the sector, with just 921,000 cars built last year. The last time car production fell below 1m units was in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

Job losses were significant in the sector, with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the largest car industry trade body, estimating 10,000 job cuts last year.

The SMMT noted that this is likely to be a conservative estimate and does not account for the many more thousands of jobs that may have been lost in the wider supply chain, with smaller businesses dependent on large car manufacturers likely forced to slash jobs amid the car industry slump.

SMMT chief executive Mikes Hawes called its latest figures “the worst in a generation”.

He said the figures “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,” he added.

Hawes said 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”.

“We will continue to work with Government to attract investment in battery production and supply chain transformation as we transition to smart and sustainable mobility, supporting jobs and driving economic growth nationwide,” he noted.

All UK car manufacturers saw steep falls in production, with production of Vauxhall’s Astra at Ellesmere Port declining by nearly half. Production at all three of Jaguar Land Rover’s car plants fell by a total of 37 per cent to 244,000. Meanwhile, at Nissan, production fell by just under a third to 246,000 units at its Sunderland plant, making Nissan the UK’s largest car manufacturer last year.

Last week, Nissan chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said Nissan was committed to maintaining its operations in Britain after the UK and EU struck an eleventh hour trade deal last month.

Gupta praised Nissan’s Sunderland plant, noting, “Sunderland is one of the top three plants in the world for competitiveness for Nissan.”

“We are committed to Sunderland for the long term under the business conditions that have been agreed,” he added.

But Unite warned that many challenges still lay ahead for the car industry as a whole – and it was imperative that the government commit to supporting the car industry to truly secure the future of the Sunderland plant and other UK car manufacturing sites.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner reiterated this call today.

Commenting on the latest car industry figures, Turner said, “These figures must act as a wake-up call to government.

“For months now we have been warning government that without direct intervention, investment and support, the on-going uncertainty and instability facing the sector will put hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs at risk, and threaten the transition of the sector from combustion engines to electric and alternate fuels.

 “Suppressed consumer demand due to the dire economic outlook and a collapse of both consumer confidence and access to forecourts during prolonged lockdowns is having a devastating impact on the sector rightly seen as a jewel in the crown of the manufacturing sector,” he added.

 “The first thing that the government should do is to announce an extension of the furlough scheme beyond April to ensure that skilled workers are not sent to the dole queue before a recovery gets underway.

“Secondly, the automotive industry is crying out for active government engagement and imaginative support to help build domestic and overseas markets,” Turner continued.

“Long-term security of access to the European Union for UK manufacturers is essential given its position as the largest customer for the vehicles UK workers produce.

“Finally, as has been repeatedly pointed out by both Unite and the employers federation, the SMMT, the UK is lagging far behind our competitors in both creating the infrastructure and supporting a supply chain transition to ensure that we are in pole position to build the next generation of electric vehicles here in the UK,” Turner went on to say.

 “There are 800,000 direct jobs at stake in the sector, many of them in the midlands and northern towns. This is an industry that is strategically and economically critical to the government’s levelling up strategy and meeting its environmental targets, but it needs rapid engagement from the government if it’s to both rise to the challenges before us and ensure it has a thriving future.”

By Hajera Blagg

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