Currently reading: UK car production output lowest since 2010
Latest SMMT figures show that output in 2019 dropped for the third year running

Car production in the UK dropped for the third straight year in 2019 to fall to the lowest output since 2010, according to newly released figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The 1.3 million production figure was a 14.2% drop on 2018 and more than 400,000 units down on the highest figure in modern times of 1.72m units in 2016.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes said the latest fall was down to weakened business and consumer confidence in the UK, the continued drop in demand for diesel models (of which the UK is a large producer) across Europe and a drop in demand in key export markets, including China, Japan and the US.

Now that the prospect of remaining within a customs union with the EU has been removed, Hawes has also called on the Government to ensure a free trade agreement with the European Union that includes tariff-free and quota-free trade between the UK and EU for the automotive industry in a trading deal that the Government has said it will negotiate before the UK/EU’s post-Brexit transition deal on current terms expires at the end of 2020. 


That’s significant, because, 81% of all cars built in the UK last year were exported - with the EU taking almost 55% of that figure at 576,000 units.

Hawes said there is a desire from automotive industries on both sides of the Channel to strike such a deal, given that the UK imported more than 1.6m vehicles from the EU in 2019 – some seven out of 10 of all cars sold here. “We are still very dependent on the EU for exports and imports,” he said. 

Striking such a deal will not only preserve that trade, believes Hawes, but also free up an expected bottleneck of decisions from car manufacturers to invest in UK production sites due to uncertainty around the UK/EU future trading deal, most notably with the PSA Group’s delayed decision on whether Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory will build the next-generation Astra. Hawes believes delays on decisions like this show that the UK car industry is not in cyclical decline, with car makers believing they can grow businesses here with the right conditions. 

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Hawes has made clear to the Government, including business secretary Andrea Leadsom, the SMMT’s position on what a future trade deal should look like, and while he doesn’t know whether the Government would extend the current transition phase beyond the current 31 December deadline, he does expect the UK’s position on what that trade deal should look like to become clear in the space of a few months to allow the delayed investment decisions to be made.

Should the UK diverge from the EU regulations in the automotive industry, there have already been warnings from the likes of Volvo boss Hakan Samuelsson that the range of models offered would be reduced to British buyers due to the increased costs and complexities of meeting regulations for an additional market. Some 400 models are offered for British buyers, so each would need to be developed to meet UK regulations, with associated costs. 

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Fresh investment into the UK car industry stood at £1.1 billion in 2020, most of which came from Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement that it would build electric cars including the next Jaguar XJ in the UK. That figure is 60% lower than the rolling seven-year average of £2.75bn into the UK industry, which has benefited from many of its highest-volume models having been committed to being produced in the UK before the Brexit decision. While production in the UK should stay largely stable to the short to medium term, it’s investment in replacements for these cars and additional models that has not been forthcoming. 

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There was better news in 2019 for the UK’s smaller, specialist car makers, including the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce, whose combined production rose 16.2% to just over 30,000 units. Alternatively fuelled vehicle production, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars, also increased by more than a third, to total just under 200,000 of all vehicles produced.

The SMMT projects that there will be a further fall in UK car production in 2020, dropping to 1.27m units, despite there being an expected positive impact from the likes of the Sunderland-built all-new Nissan Juke and the first full-year production of the Toyota Corolla in Derbyshire.

An all-new Nissan Qashqai, Britain's most-exported new car, will have its first full year in production in 2021. That should help compensate for some of the lost production when Honda’s Swindon plant closes at the same time.

Key numbers

Top 5 most exported UK cars

Nissan Qashqai


Toyota Corolla

Honda Civic

Range Rover Sport

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UK car manufacturing by year

1972: 1.92m (record high)

2009: 1m

2016: 1.72m

2017: 1.67m

2018: 1.52m

2019: 1.3m

UK car manufacturer production by car maker (2019)

Jaguar Land Rover: 385,197 units (-14.3%)

Nissan: 346,535 (-21.6%)

Mini: 221,928 (-5.2%)

Toyota: 148,106 (+14.7%)

Honda: 108,876 (-32.2%)

Vauxhall: 61,737 (-20.3%)

Other: 30,756 (+16.2%)

Top 5 export markets for UK

EU (54.8% of all exports)

USA (18.9%)

China (5.3%)

Japan (3.2%)

Canada (2.2%) 

Read more

PSA to close Ellesmere Port plant if Brexit hits profitability​

EU motor industry leaders unite against ‘no-deal’ Brexit​

Opinion: the UK car industry's 2021 Brexit timebomb​

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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peetee 30 January 2020

No doubt Speth will head back

No doubt Speth will head back to India(TataSons)and arrange to close more of JLR in the U.K.  

Not to worry though because BoJo is on the case and he can say yes to HS2 and soak up some of the West Midlands unemployed. 

The Apprentice 30 January 2020

Perhap the remainers like

Perhap the remainers like Sourbry that frustrated brexit each time and caused all the 'failed exits' shutdowns thus wasting money and productivity - will be willing to reimburse the manufacturers?
Straff 30 January 2020

Broken record

Maybe if the EU hadn't paid JLR and Ford to build factories elsewhere in Europe, car production wouldn't be at these levels in this country.