Another week, another set of grim statistics from the SMMT, which on Monday revealed a 30.5 per cent fall in sales from this time last year. This is particularly worrying, as March, which sees the arrival of new number plates, is usually the busiest month in the auto industry.
All immediate hopes are now pinned on this month’s budget, and the calls are growing louder for a European-style scrappage scheme that would offer car owners incentives to replace older vehicles.
Similar schemes have already worked in Germany, where car sales are reported to have soared by 40 per cent in March, but it hardly seems like a recipe for sustainable recovery. Indeed, opponents to such schemes believe that any government rescue packages should, instead, be geared around the development of low-carbon high-efficiency technologies.
Others believe that an industry facing one of the biggest crises in its history requires even more fundamental change to ensure its survival.
Last week The Engineer went to visit Dr Clive Hickman, a veteran of the UK auto industry and now head of engineering at Indian car giant Tata Motors.
Though Tata is far from immune to the economic downturn, it’s probably fair to say that it’s struggling less than others and Hickman lays this relative success at the feet of engineers, who he believes are more motivated than their rivals.
It’s a controversial view, and one that won’t win him any popularity contests, but Tata’s engineering chief does have a unique vantage point, and claims that the passion and drive shown by his Indian engineers has been lacking in the UK auto industry for many years.
It will be no consolation to the thousands of people currently out of work, but if Hickman is right, perhaps in the long term something positive may rise from the ashes of the current economic crisis. After all, there’s nothing like a fight for survival to instil a bit of passion.
A full interview with Tata’s Clive Hickman will appear in the next issue of The Engineer – out on 20 April.
Jon Excell, Deputy Editor