The number of cars built in the UK plummeted by almost half in April compared with a year ago, new figures reveal.
Just under 71,000 cars rolled off production lines in the month, down by 44.5 per cent on April last year as factory shutdowns, rescheduled to mitigate against the expected uncertainty of Brexit at the end of March, took effect in many plants across the UK, said the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Manufacturing for domestic and overseas markets fell by 43.7 per cent and 44.7 per cent respectively as most car-makers brought forward, and extended, production stoppages normally scheduled for the summer holiday period.
The SMMT said the shift in shutdown, which cannot now be repeated for an 31 October deadline, was part of a raft of “costly and ongoing” contingency measures, including stockpiling, training for new customs procedures and rerouting of logistics.
The report said April’s “dismal” performance, the 11th straight month of decline, exacerbated the underlying downward trend, due largely to slowing demand in key international markets, including the EU, China and the US, as well as at home.
In the year to date, 127,240 fewer cars have been built compared with the same period in 2018 – a decline of more than a fifth.
The SMMT said that, provided the UK leaves the EU with a favourable deal and substantial transition period, and notwithstanding any escalation of global trade tensions, the decline in volumes is expected to ease by the end of the year, as new models come on stream and production lines remain active over the usual summer shutdown months.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “Today’s figures are evidence of the vast cost and upheaval Brexit uncertainty has already wrought on UK automotive manufacturing businesses and workers.
“Prolonged instability has done untold damage, with the fear of no-deal holding back progress, causing investment to stall, jobs to be lost and undermining our global reputation.
“This is why no-deal must be taken off the table immediately and permanently, so industry can get back to the business of delivering for the economy and keeping the UK at the forefront of the global technology race.”
Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow business secretary, said: “These alarming figures which show output halving are stark warnings of what could come from a hard right Tory leader crashing the UK out of Europe with no deal.
“The UK car industry is being undermined by this incompetent government and its threats of a no deal.
“Their mishandling of Brexit has created prolonged uncertainty, and they have simply failed to engage with the domestic challenges facing the industry such as electrification.
“The industry needs certainty and the Government must work with trade unions to produce a long term strategy for the sector.”
A Business Department spokesman said: “A number of large automotive manufacturers did see planned production shutdowns during this period.
“The Government wants to see the UK automotive sector continue to grow and attract further investment. Through our Modern Industrial Strategy we continue to invest in the future of our automotive industry, including £1 billion for research and development into cleaner vehicles, and the Faraday Battery Challenge to develop the next generation of car battery technologies in the UK.”