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February UK car production figures show ‘calm before the storm’

The coronavirus pandemic could wipe some 200,000 units off UK car production output this year, bringing ‘unprecedented’ challenges for the industry.

JLR is switching to a three-day week at its Castle Bromwich plant

Initial impact analysis suggests coronavirus could wipe some 200,000 units off the UK’s output in 2020; the SMMT is calling for accelerated access to emergency support

While latest car manufacturing stats from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show production was only down 0.8% in February – equating to just 1,000 units fewer than the same month in 2019 – the organisation says it’s the ‘calm before the storm’.

In the month before the coronavirus pandemic started to be felt in the UK, global exports fell 3.1% to just short of 95,000 units. Domestic output rose 7.8%, with 27,172 cars produced. And year-to-date figures show a 1.5% year-on-year drop in overall production.

But an initial assessment commissioned by SMMT of the potential impact of the current shutdowns suggests a loss of around 200,000 units by the end of 2020, just under 1.1 million – a fall of 18%. And the impact could be far more severe if the crisis, and therefore shutdowns, were to last for months instead of weeks.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Despite the myriad global challenges the UK automotive industry has faced in recent times, it remains fundamentally strong and February’s figures reflect that.

“However, these figures also reflect the calm before the storm. With UK car plants now effectively on national shutdown and many global markets closed, the outlook is of deep concern. We wholeheartedly welcome government’s extraordinary package of emergency support for businesses and workers, but this must get through to businesses now. If we’re to keep this sector alive and in a position to help Britain get back on its feet, we urgently need funding to be released, additional measures to ease pressure on cashflow and clarity on how employment support measures will work.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. Natalie edits all the Fleet World websites and newsletters, and loves to hear about any latest industry news.