In the driving seat

The UK motor industry is thriving, but to remain a key global player we must build on our achievements by developing a more strategic approach, says Paul Everitt


The UK is the most diverse and productive manufacturing location in Europe, as well as as a global centre of excellence for engine development and production. The industry employs 180,000 directly in manufacturing, and eight global vehicle makers have plants here — more than anywhere else in Europe.

Ranging from major volume car makers, van, truck and bus builders, to specialist niche manufacturers, the industry is supported by a sophisticated supply chain which includes many of the world’s major component producers, technology providers and design and engineering specialists.

Last year the UK motor industry made over 1.7 million vehicles — with a record volume of over 1.3 million sent for export. Nissan in Sunderland, for example, had a very successful 2007, with the Qashqai model (designed, developed and manufactured in the UK) helping the plant achieve record production of over 350,000 cars — making it the UK’s largest car producer and exporter. But that is just one example.

There are around 4,000 firms involved in the UK automotive supply chain, ranging from global players to small and medium-sized businesses. This sector exports over £5bn worth of goods each year, 75 per cent of that destined for mainland Europe.

The world’s major automotive companies are attracted to the UK by an unrivalled combination of engineering excellence, a skilled and flexible workforce and a government that strives to create an excellent business environment for companies to prosper. One of the strengths of our motor industry is its ability to continuously adapt, evolve and create new opportunities in the face of change.

A combination of heritage, diversity and agility places the UK motor industry in good shape to face the unremitting pressures of change needed to survive into the 21st century. A major challenge faced by all manufacturing, not just the auto trade, is that of aligning its technologies, products and business performance to deliver customer value in a global setting subject to relentless cost-cutting pressures.

Regulation poses yet further challenges. Environmental protection and safety legislation already influence the number and type of vehicles being manufactured, marketed and purchased. Currently in Europe, the focus is on harnessing the environmental benefits while still retaining competitive advantage.

Each vehicle made in this country requires half the energy to produce than it did five years ago, saving an estimated 700,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Total combined waste to landfill is down by more than half, from 80,399 tonnes in 2000 to 39,862 in 2006.

Technological innovation has helped car and commercial vehicle manufacturers slash CO2 and air quality emissions from vehicles. New diesel cars, for example, emit 95 per cent less soot from the exhaust than those made 15 years ago and average new-car CO2 has been cut by 13 per cent since 1997.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) welcomed the recent announcement that business minister Shriti Vadera has launched an initiative to support and develop the UK motor sector, and is delighted that Richard Parry-Jones has been appointed leader of the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (NAIGT).

SMMT will work closely with Vadera and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to create a plan that builds upon the strengths of the sector and addresses the challenges facing the industry. The automotive industry is at the forefront of process improvement, delivering economies of scale and low unit costs, despite the increasing complexity of its products.

In the past 20 years, there has been almost a revolution in the way vehicles are manufactured in the UK. Production processes have been streamlined and methods put in place to try and eliminate waste. There is a focus on quality, cost and delivery which has made the UK a worthy manufacturing rival of any country in the world — based on efficiency, quality and unit cost.

By developing a more strategic approach to the future of our automotive sector over the next 15 years, government, industry and others can safeguard and grow investment in this important manufacturing area. The UK motor industry is thriving and is committed to remaining a key player in global manufacturing.



Paul Everitt is the chief executive of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders