Car manufacturing in the UK set a 17-year record in 2016, and despite some industry uncertainty over Brexit, output is being tipped to keep rising and to reach an all-time high before 2020, according to the car industry mouthpiece, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Revealing the full year's figures, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said car production from 15 UK car manufacturers rose 8.5% to 1,722,698 units, the highest total since 1999. He described the industry as "in rude health" and predicted that the all-time record of 1.92 cars, set in 1972, would soon be beaten. Of the 2016 total, 1,354,216 cars (or about 80%) of production was exported, a total that beat last year's record, making car manufacture one of the country's largest and most dependable export earners. Over the past five years, average local content of locally made cars had risen from 36% to 41%, he revealed, another indicator of success.
Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan, who issued their 2016 figures in separate, similarly timed announcements, both played a major part in the UK's 2016 success. JLR held onto its position as the UK's biggest manufacturer, with an 8.0% production uplift to 544,401 cars, the rise driven by an updated line-up that included Jaguar's Jaguar F-Pace SUV and the all-new Land Rover Discovery. NIssan's production at its mammoth Sunderland car-making complex was close behind at 507,430 units, and included new records for Qashqai and Leaf production.
Adding a note of caution, Mike Hawes pointed out that the bullish figures were the result of investment decisions "made three or four years ago", and not of a post-Brexit bounce as suggested in some media commentary. There were strong indications that car makers and suppliers were currently postponing non-critical investment decisions to see what happened, he said, which made clarity on future trading conditions vital.
"High-class engineering, advanced technology and a workforce committed to quality have helped turned our industry around," he said. "Today, the UK is one of the most productive places in Europe to make cars. We want trade deals, but they must be right and not rushed."
The SMMT figures showed that the UK's top-selling export model in 2016 was the Nissan Qashqai, with the Toyota Auris and Mini in second and third spots. Five of the top 10 were JLR models, the Range Rover Sport (5th), Range Rover Evoque (6th) and Land Rover Discovery Sport (7th). The Jaguar F-Pace and Jaguar XE filled 9th and 10th spots respectively.
Top 10 exported British cars:
1. Nissan Qashqai
2. Toyota Auris
4. Vauxhall Astra
5. Range Rover Sport