Strong exports helped the UK’s motor industry produce 1.8 million cars last year – the highest number since 1972.
Overseas sales rose by 11% to a record 1.1 million, which more than compensated for a drop in domestic consumption.
Peugeot’s new 206 made the biggest contribution to the export rise, underlining the importance of companies once considered foreign to the UK.
New models from Jaguar, Vauxhall and Toyota also contributed to higher export levels, but production at Rover fell substantially.
Despite the strength of sterling, experts predict UK car production will continue to rise. David Leggett, automotive analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said: ‘Although the exchange rate may have a short-term effect, the UK is still a relatively low-cost place to manufacture. The long-term view is that factors such at labour costs, which are relatively low in the UK, will be more important to manufacturers.’
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said rising export levels were a result of manufacturers trying to focus production of each model on one particular country.
As a result, imports have also risen. A total of 2.2 million cars were sold in the UK in 1999, leaving a deficit of 400,000.