Car production grinds to a halt in lockdown Britain

Alan Tovey
Bentley factory

The number of cars built in Britain in April plunged 99.7pc (month on month), as manufacturing collapsed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Just 197 cars were made according to stark industry figures that highlight the scale of the crisis in the automotive industry. That compared with the 71,000 produced in April 2019, which was a particularly weak month as it coincided with factory shutdowns around the UK's expected departure from the European Union.

The lockdown that shuttered car plants across the country saw output collapse to its lowest level since the Second World War, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT).

The trade body did not detail output levels for each manufacturer.

However, it is understood that none of the high-volume manufacturers were included, with the focus on luxury and premium marques still being made for richer buyers.

Jaguar produced 87 cars during the month and Bentley 34, with the remainder thought to be split between McLaren and Rolls-Royce.

One automotive source said that even vehicles included in the SMMT numbers were not actually manufactured from scratch during April, with factory shutdown processes because of the lockdown meaning cars which were all but complete had to be finished to avoid damaging them. 

Others were ready but had not received paperwork allowing them to be processed at the start of the month, or had simply not been formally rolled off the production line and out of the factory gate.

Of the cars which were counted, 152 were for export customers and 45 for the UK.

Just 255,000 cars have come off UK production lines this year – a drop of more than a quarter on the same period in 2019. 

Researchers at AutoAnalysis now forecast that output this year could drop below 1 million, taking it beneath the level hit in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis.

Car factories are slowly returning to work, but new social distancing measures are slowing output.

Lower demand because dealerships remain closed until Monday is also holding back work, with car companies reluctant to build cars “on spec” and focused instead on delivering those already ordered.

Business Briefing Newsletter REFERRAL (Article)

Research for the SMMT has indicated that measures to combat coronavirus and lost production could mean a £12.5bn economic hit for the industry, which is worth £82bn annually. 

There are also major questions about consumer confidence because of uncertainty about rising unemployment.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Revenues were effectively slashed to zero last month. Manufacturers are starting to emerge from prolonged shutdown into a very uncertain world and ramping up production will be a gradual process, so we need government to work with us to accelerate this fundamentally strong sector’s recovery, stimulate investment and safeguard jobs.”