The threat of expensive car factory shutdowns is looming large in the UK as the country races towards Brexit on 29 March.
The biggest UK auto manufacturers could lose more than £100m ($128m) per day after a no-deal Brexit as border slowdowns and custom checks would hit their finely calibrated production lines, with parts failing to arrive in time from the European Union.
Even with advanced planning and stockpiling, factories aren’t expected to operate normally for more than a few days after Brexit.
“We carry just four hours of parts at our plant. We collect the parts in sequence to the build and we build the cars one-by-one to custom orders,” warned Toyota Motor Europe’s deputy managing director, Tony Walker, at a parliamentary committee hearing earlier this month. “With a no-deal [Brexit], we would have stop-start production for weeks, possibly months. It would be very very difficult for us to cope.
“The value of the cars we make is £10m a day. If we lose that sort of value, it’s very very challenging for us,” he said.
Toyota (TM) is the fifth largest car manufacturer in the UK, producing about 144,000 cars in 2017.
Jaguar Land Rover, the biggest car manufacturer in the country, produced over 532,000 cars last year. The company’s CEO Ralf Speth warned in September that shutting down production after a no-deal Brexit would cost his company £60m ($76m) per day.
Nissan (7201.T), BMW (BMW.DE) and Honda (HMC) are the other three largest car manufacturers in the country. They declined to estimate the daily value of lost production in the event of a no-deal shutdown. But auto industry experts told Yahoo Finance that the top five carmakers could lose more than £100m worth of production per day.
“The car industry is desperate to have a [Brexit] deal simply to avoid the risk of a no-deal Brexit,” said Professor David Bailey, a car manufacturing expert at Aston Business School. “In the event of a no deal, plants will close and not all of them may reopen again.”
Bailey said he was particularly concerned that Jaguar Land Rover’s Castle Bromwich plant near Birmingham, which recently cut its production schedule, might shutdown and never reopen.
“In the event of a no-deal [Brexit], I can see that production shifting to Slovakia,” he said.
MPs look unlikely to support prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday, raising the risk that the UK could break away from the EU with no agreement. This is expected to wreak havoc at the borders as new custom checks are re-imposed overnight and goods deliveries are stalled. This would do real damage to the auto industry, which has thrived on “just-in-time” production schedules and requires “just-in-sequence” deliveries.
A spokesperson for May’s government told Yahoo Finance UK, “We are determined to ensure that the UK continues to be one of the most competitive locations in the world for automotive and other advanced manufacturing.”
“This is why we have agreed a free trade area for goods that provides for no tariffs or quotas and ensures a trading relationship [with the EU] that is as close as possible, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation,” a spokesperson said.
Still, auto executives and trade experts have consistently said that May’s deal puts the country at a disadvantage to where it currently stands now. The UK is expected to lose “frictionless” trade at the borders as it plans to leave the EU’s customs union.
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Honda estimated earlier this year that EU car part deliveries to its Swindon plant, which take a matter of hours, could be delayed for days after Brexit, which would have severe repercussions for production.
Stockpiling parts also isn’t a long-term solution.
BMW, for example, gets 150 lorry deliveries per day. Warehousing all those parts would require new facilities and a huge amount of financial resources.
“We have looked at a number of different options to protect the supply of components to our production plants. These include additional parking space for lorries and additional warehousing capacity,” said BMW.
To deal with the uncertainty, BMW plans to shutdown its main Oxford factory immediately after the Brexit deadline for four weeks. This annual factory maintenance period normally happens in the summer, but was pushed up “in order to minimise any risk of supply-chain interruption immediately after Brexit takes effect,” the company said.
Other companies are also preparing for the worst by moving operations out of the UK altogether, according to a new November survey by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT).
The survey of auto manufacturers showed roughly 12% of UK-based companies in the car industry had begun relocating some of their operations to other countries.
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