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Coronavirus: UK car production plummets to lowest level since World War II

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
UK car production plummeted by almost 100% in April, to the lowest monthly output since World War II. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

UK car production fell by almost 100% in April, with just 197 cars produced in the entire month — the lowest monthly output since World War II, according to new figures from the sector.

The 99.7% decline on the same month in 2019 came as the country’s car plants were forced to close amid UK-wide coronavirus lockdown measures and a sharp fall-off in demand for vehicles.

Manufacturers instead turned their focus to the production of 700,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said that car production so far this year had now plummeted by almost 28%, meaning that more than 120,000 fewer vehicles have been produced compared to the same period in 2019.

The negligible output of less than 200 cars in April is an order of magnitude lower than the previous record low from January 1946, when 6,319 units were produced.

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The SMMT now expects the sector to produce fewer than one million vehicles in 2020, and estimates that the lost production will cost the sector up to £12.5bn ($15.5bn).

That would be the lowest output for the sector in recent memory and below that of 2009, when the sector was severely dented by the financial crisis.

The SMMT said that the 168,000 workers in the auto sector were now starting to return to work, with around half of the UK’s car plants set to be open by the end of May.

But it cautioned that factories were scaling up production at different paces, and that the need for social distancing measures would stymie the recovery.

“With the UK’s car plants mothballed in April, these figures aren’t surprising but they do highlight the tremendous challenge the industry faces, with revenues effectively slashed to zero last month,” said Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT.

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“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,” he said.

In a statement, the government said that it was in “close contact” with firms in the automotive sector to offer support and guidance. It pointed to what it called “significant” stimulus measures designed to support businesses.

“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,” said Hawes.