Car production fell to its lowest level since the Second World War in April amid plant closures because of the coronavirus crisis, new figures reveal.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said production was down by 99.7% compared with April last year, with just 197 models leaving factory gates in the month.
Instead of making cars for the UK and global export markets, many manufacturers produced personal protective equipment in April, including face shields, visors and medical gowns.
Output for both the domestic and overseas markets was “severely curtailed” in the month, with 152 cars built for export and 45 for customers in the UK, said the SMMT.
The “exceptional” figures follows a weak April 2019, when volumes fell due to temporary shutdowns as manufacturers sought to mitigate the impact of an expected end-March Brexit.
Latest independent analysis suggests annual UK car production could fall below one million this year, which would be lower than in 2009.
The UK’s 168,000 automotive manufacturing employees are now starting to return to work, with around half of the country’s car and engine plants set to be operating by the end of May, said the SMMT.
Factories are scaling up production along different timescales and, with strict social distancing measures in place, output initially will be restricted with a predicted loss of up to 400,000 units by the end of the year compared with the January outlook, and a cost to the industry of up to £12.5 billion at factory gate prices, said the society.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “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.
“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.
“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.”
Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “We urgently need a sector plan to support the UK’s world class auto industry through this crisis, with investment to defend jobs and support for a transition to electrification.
“The French and German governments have wasted no time in getting behind their manufacturing workers.
“They are using this shutdown to intervene, with taxpayer support, in return for a transition to a greener, innovative domestic industry, and support for resilient local supply chains.
“The UK Government needs to match this ambition, proudly talking up our manufacturing champions and working with unions to recover and meet the challenges of the future, sustaining and creating quality jobs and apprenticeships.”
A Government spokesman said: “The Government has put in place a significant financial package to support businesses, and we have announced that car showrooms in England can open from 1 June to help kick-start car sales. We are in close contact with companies across the automotive sector during this time to offer support and guidance.
“Together with industry, the Government has already committed to investing £1 billion over 10 years to 2023 to research and develop low-carbon automotive technologies.”