UK car output in 2020 ‘worst in a generation’

UK car output was the ‘worst in a generation’ in 2020 with COVID-19 and Brexit contributing to a 29.3 per cent drop in production.

UK car output
Output at Nissan Sunderland was down 29.1 per cent to 245, 649 units (Image: Nissan)

The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show UK car production down 2.3 per cent in December to 71,403 units, and down to 920,928 units for the year.

Factory output was stymied by COVID-related lockdowns and social distancing measures whilst Brexit uncertainty, a factor until Christmas Eve when the EU/UK trade deal was struck, weakened market demand in key export markets.

SMMT survey reveals £735m cost of Brexit

According to SMMT, production for overseas buyers fell 29.1 per cent to 749,038 units, while output for the UK fell 30.4 per cent to 171,890.

Despite ongoing difficulties, over eight in ten cars were shipped overseas and the EU remained the UK’s biggest export destination with a 53.5 per cent share.

Shipments to the US, Japan and Australia fell by 33.7 per cent, 21.6 per cent and 21.8 per cent respectively. Parts of Asia bucked the downward trend with exports to China going up by 2.3 per cent, and those to South Korea and Taiwan rising by 3.6 per cent and 16.7 per cent respectively.

Manufacturing of cars in the UK brand table 2020 (SMMT)

Production of alternatively fuelled vehicles – battery electric (BEV), plug-hybrid (PHEV) and hybrid vehicles (HEV) – remained buoyant. SMMT figures show that the combined production of these models rose to 18.8 per cent of all cars made in Britain, up from 14.8 per cent in 2019, with BEVs increasing to a 4.5 per cent share, up from 3.4 per cent. The UK produced 172,857 alternatively fuelled vehicles, with 79.6 per cent of these exported.

In a statement, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “These figures, the worst in a generation, reflect the devastating impact of the pandemic on UK automotive production. The industry faces 2021 with more optimism, however, with a vaccine being rolled out and clarity on how we trade with Europe, which remains by far our biggest market.

“The immediate challenge is to adapt to the new conditions, to overcome the additional customs burdens and regain our global competitiveness while delivering zero-emission transport. We will continue to work with government to attract investment in battery production and supply chain transformation as we transition to smart and sustainable mobility, supporting jobs and driving economic growth nationwide.”

UK car output is predicted to rise to one million cars in 2021, but SMMT cautions that much will depend on Covid measures here and abroad, and the speed at which manufacturers cope with new trading arrangements between Britain and the EU.