Car production in the UK limped to fewer than 200 vehicles last month – a massive drop from 71,000 the same month a year earlier – as plants were forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 197 cars left Britain’s factories, all of which were ‘premium, luxury and sports cars’ that are produced in limited numbers and ‘had been assembled prior to shutdowns with only finishing touches needed’, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
The manufacturing slump of a staggering 99.7 per cent means output hit the lowest level on record since the Second World War.
Record low production in April: Car factories produced fewer than 200 cars last month due to the coronavirus lockdown. This was a collapse in output of 99.7% to the lowest level of record since the end of the Second World War
Most UK car plants had downed tools ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s initial lockdown announcement on 23 March.
While outputs were down by just 0.8 per cent that month, the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by vehicle makers in April.
Of the 197 cars produced, 152 were for the export market and the remaining 45 for buyers in Britain.
While the SMMT said these were all ‘premium, luxury and sports cars’, it does not publish brand-specific manufacturing figures. However, these are likely to be exclusive brands making vehicles to order.
The production output last month compare to 57,315 vehicles made to be sent overseas in April last year, and 13,656 motors made for the home market.
The exceptional month follows a particularly weak April 2019, when volumes fell 45 per cent year-on-year due to temporary shutdowns as manufacturers sought to mitigate the impact of an expected end-March Brexit.
It also follows a record low for new car registrations in April 2020, with the SMMT confirming that sales fell by 97 per cent and the most-bought motor wasn’t a car but the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.
The catastrophic month for UK car makers is laid bare by these figures published by the SMMT on Friday
All 197 cars that left UK factories last month were ‘premium, luxury and sports cars’ that are produced in limited numbers and ‘had been assembled prior to shutdowns with only finishing touches needed’, according to the SMMT
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said that with the UK’s car plants mothballed in April, these figures ‘weren’t surprising’ but highlight the ‘tremendous challenge the industry faces, with revenues effectively slashed to zero last month’.
He added: ‘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.’
Hopes are now pinned on a surge in demand for new vehicles from Monday, as car showrooms reopen to the public as part of the next phase of an eased lockdown announced by the Prime Minister.
Around half of the country’s car and engine plants are set to be operating by the end of May. Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull factory restarted on 18 May
This is the first car produced by JLR since its Midlands factory reopened – an £84,000 Range Rover
Many of the 168,000 automotive manufacturing employees have already started to return to work, with around half of the country’s car and engine plants set to be operating by the end of May.
The first UK maker to restart production was Rolls-Royce, resuming its Goodwood assembly line for its exclusive cars earlier this month on 4 May.
It was closely followed by Aston Martin (5 May), Bentley (11 May) and partial production by the UK’s biggest car producer, Jaguar Land Rover, on 18 May.
It restarted manufacturing at the Solihull car plant from the middle of the month, along with its Wolverhampton engine plant.
Production at JLR’s Halewood plant near Liverpool will recommence on 8 June starting with one shift – and bosses confirmed ‘small pockets’ of business-critical activity is taking place to prepare the Castle Bromwich factory for new model assembly, too.
Nissan, the UK’s second biggest car producer will also reopen on 8 June. Yesterday bosses confirmed it would become the Japanese brand’s European production hub following the decision to close its vehicle factory in Barcelona at the end of the year.
While many manufacturers will be scaling up production, strict social distancing measures, new hygiene rules and limits on the volume of employees working at the same time means output initially will be restricted with a predicted loss of up to some 400,000 units by year end, compared with the January outlook.
This is likely to cost the industry up to £12.5 billion, the SMMT warned.
Latest independent analysis suggests annual UK car production could fall below one million units in 2020, which would represent the lowest volume for 11 years and possibly a third lower than expected in January pre-crisis.
Nissan Sunderland, which this week received a boost from bosses who ensured its safety after announcing the closure of a plant in Barcelona, is one factory that has yet to reopen, with a phased return to work from 8 June
With strict social distancing measures and new hygiene protocol in place, UK vehicle output initially will be restricted
Bentley’s Crewe factory restarted production earlier in May. Workers are seen here in face masks and socially distanced on the assembly line for the Bentayga SUV
In April, instead of making cars for the UK and global export markets, many manufacturers refocused efforts on producing personal protective equipment – including face shields, visors and medical gowns – for use by healthcare professionals as part of the nation’s efforts to battle Covid-19.
During the pandemic, car makers have made some 711,495 pieces of PPE, with others helping make medical equipment, including high-tech ventilators as part of the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium.
Mr Hawes added: ‘Support to get all businesses through this short-term turmoil will ensure the UK’s many globally-renowned brands can continue to make the products that remain so desirable to consumers the world over and, in turn, help deliver long-term prosperity for Britain.’
Commercial vehicle outputs in the UK were almost non-existent in April, too.
Just 15 vans were made in UK plants in total, according to the SMMT, while engine production dived 99.5 per cent to just 830 units.
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