UK lockdown losses estimated at £8.2bn

UK car manufacturing fell 37.6% in March, with experts predicting the cost to the UK automotive industry caused by the coronavirus will be £8.2bn.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), just 78,767 vehicles left factory gates in the month, some 47,428 fewer than the previous year, as the coronavirus crisis caused UK car plants to close, resulting in more than 140 days-worth, in total, of lost production.

Output for the domestic market declined 36.8%, while exports fell 37.8% as the pandemic forced showrooms to close around the world. Demand was particularly weak in major export destinations, including the US and EU where many key markets were shut for the majority of the month.

The latest independent analysis suggests that the crisis could result in a loss of some 257,000 units this year across all UK plants if factories stay closed to the middle of May. This amounts to an estimated cost to industry of some £8.2bn, equivalent to around 20% of UK car makers’ combined annual turnover.

The outlook could be much worse, however, if subsequent demand is weak and the speed at which production lines are able to ramp up is constrained. The first step, therefore, is to get car retail premises open as soon as the situation allows.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive,said: “UK Automotive is fundamentally strong but, as these figures show, it is being tested like never before, with each week of shutdown costing the sector and economy billions. Government’s emergency measures are helping keep many companies afloat and thousands of people in jobs, but liquidity remains a major concern and will become even more stretched as the industry begins to restart.

“To get production lines rolling, we need a package of measures that supports the entire industry. We need coordination and collaboration with government, the workforce and wider stakeholders to unlock the sector in a safe and sustainable way. This will include new workplace guidance, additional measures to ease cash-flow and help furloughed colleagues back to work, as well as demand-side measure to help encourage customers back into the market. This should be seen as long-term investment into the underlying competitiveness of an industry critical to the health of the economy and the livelihoods of thousands of households right across the UK.”