‘Calm before the storm’ for car production as plants close

Car production fell by 0.8% in February, although the industry accepts this was the “calm before the storm”.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said the sector was bracing itself for the coronavirus impact, as car plants are effectively on shutdown.

New analysis suggested the current crisis could wipe around 200,000 cars off the UK’s output in 2020, said the SMMT, which urged the Government to accelerate access to emergency support for all businesses.

Around 1,000 fewer cars were built last month even though output for the UK market increased by 7.8% compared to February last year.

Exports fell by 3.1%, to just under 95,000, said the SMMT.

A total of 122,171 vehicles rolled off production lines last month, with year-to-date figures showing a 1.5% drop in overall production compared to the same time a year ago.

The SMMT said the motor industry was facing an “unprecedented challenge”, with all car manufacturing plants now on shutdown.

An initial assessment commissioned by the SMMT of the potential impact of these shutdowns suggested a loss of around 200,000 units by the end of 2020, a fall of 18%.

But the trade group warned the impact could be far more severe if the crisis, and shutdowns, lasted for months instead of weeks.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Despite the myriad global challenges the UK automotive industry has faced in recent times, it remains fundamentally strong and February’s figures reflect that.

“However, these figures also reflect the calm before the storm. With UK car plants now effectively on national shutdown and many global markets closed, the outlook is of deep concern.

“We wholeheartedly welcome Government’s extraordinary package of emergency support for businesses and workers, but this must get through to businesses now.

“If we’re to keep this sector alive and in a position to help Britain get back on its feet, we urgently need funding to be released, additional measures to ease pressure on cashflow and clarity on how employment support measures will work.”

A Government spokesman said: “The Government has announced an unprecedented financial package to support business and is committed to do whatever it takes to get our nation through the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, enabling car makers to retain their staff so they can be up and running quickly when the pandemic ends. We remain in close contact with automotive companies during this time.”