More new cars were built in Britain last year than in any of the past 10 years, with exports also hitting an all-time record high, according to figures released by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
In another step towards the all-time production record of 1.92 million cars, set in 1972 - which the SMMT has previously said it expects carmakers to eclipse in the next four years - total sales of UK-built cars rose 3.9% to 1,587,677 units. While the SMMT chief Mike Hawes is still predicting output will eclipse 1.92m cars by 2020, he cautioned that the growth hinged on the continued emergence of Europe from recession and stability and growth in other world markets.
"We are confident of breaking the record by 2020, but there are a lot of factors at play, from continued demand in the UK, through to our membership of the European Union being resolved and on to other geo-social factors that could impact on demand in large markets," said Hawes.
A record 1,227,881 units (or a 77.3%) were exported, despite waning sales in China (down 37.5%) and Russia (down 69.4%). These declines were easily offset by rising demand from EU countries - up 11.3% to 1,227,881 units or an impressive 57.5% of exports - and the US, which became the world’s biggest buyer of British-built cars outside Europe.
Home market demand for locally built cars was also strong, rising 8.1% to 359,796 units to correct a previous-year decline. According to the SMMT, eight all-new models were launched from UK car factories during 2015, and £1.76 billion of new investment was committed to the sector.
Welcoming the industry’s success, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes took the opportunity to underscore his support for the UK’s membership of the EU.
“Continued growth in an intensely competitive global marketplace is far from guaranteed,” he said, “and it depends heavily on global economic conditions and political stability. Europe is our biggest trading partner and the UK’s membership of the European Union is vital.”
Welcoming the figures, Chancellor George Osborne also sounded a cautious note. “Our plans to rebalance the economy mean we have to continue to build on our great manufacturing strengths in the Midlands and the North of England,” he said. The importance of continuing UK automotive success is underlined by recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show UK average manufacturing output slowing in recent months."
Jaguar Land Rover beats Nissan to become UK's largest car maker
The SMMT figures show that JLR’s production rose 50,400 units (or 9%) to 489,923 units, beating Nissan (whose production declined 4.7% to 476,589) by 13,334 units. Nissan's Sunderland plant - which is 30 years old this year - still remains the largest car factory in UK manufacturing history, however.