Speaking to Autocar at the Geneva motor show, Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche said that a Brexit would cause "tremendous damage" to his firm's European plans. "In the last 70 years Europe has progressed from being a continent at war, to a single community. We don't all pull in the same direction and at the same time, but it would be terrible to see this process put into reverse." He also said that the economic consequences of a Brexit would be "much more serious for the UK than for the rest of Europe."
PSA Peugeot-Citroen boss Carlos Tavares also spoke out on the referendum: "This is something we can do nothing about. The people of the UK must make their own decisions. The business risk comes from a loss of revenue around currency and trading. The situation is that if the pound weakens and hits profits, then prices will rise to compensate. Ultimately, we hope the UK will stay - we see that as better than it fighting for itself.”
Nissan boss Mr. Carlos Ghosn recently released a statement regarding the EU referendum, saying: "We have a rich heritage in the UK with 30 years of manufacturing and engineering presence, and remain committed to building and engineering cars in the country. Last year we produced more than 475,000 vehicles in the UK – 80 percent of which are exported.
“Our preference as a business is, of course, that the UK stays within Europe – it makes the most sense for jobs, trade and costs. For us, a position of stability is more positive than a collection of unknowns. However, this is ultimately a matter for the British people to decide.”
Nigel Stein, chief executive of British engineering firm GKN (responsible for designing the drivelines for nearly half of the world’s cars), believes the UK will struggle to compete with EU business alone: “A vote to leave will not mean manufacturing investment disappears overnight, but over time a UK outside the EU will be disadvantaged and will lose the investment it needs to maintain our industries.
“The relative size of the pan-European market compared to the UK market means it would be hard for us to compete alone. GKN’s European manufacturing plants would likely become more important to business [if Brexit went ahead].”
Stein agreed with Robertson’s comments, saying: “If we left, it is likely that we will end up with a free-trade-like deal that will put the UK at a significant disadvantage compared to our European competitors.”
Smaller businesses also argued that EU membership gave them a competitive advantage on a global scale. Gamil Magal, Group chief executive of Magal Engineering, said: “we benefit heavily from a free movement of employees across Europe. Our rapid growth would be hampered without this.”
Magal added: “Does anybody really believe that the EU would offer an independent UK better trade terms than it does to those who are within it?”
Almost all SMMT members agreed that remaining in a market where there are more than 500 million consumers was essential to ensure the UK remained competitive though many did agree some reform was needed.
Hawes said the SMMT wanted Britain to remain in Europe, but with more power to influence EU business decisions. “If we stay in Europe, we really hope David Cameron will make the most of it.”
The UK public will vote on whether to stay in the EU in a referendum held on 23 June 2016.