The automotive industry is broadly in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union, according to a survey by Autocar of the main players in this country.
As the UK gets ready to vote on 23 June on whether to stay in or leave the EU, the general sense is that the car industry backs the Remain campaign. This is particularly the case for car manufacturers with owners based on the Continent or overseas and plugged into a European supply base and sales channels.
But many automotive trade associations and businesses that rely mainly on trade inside the UK are staying neutral, outwardly at least.
Last year 57% of the 1.5 million cars built in the UK were exported to the EU. With the bulk of the companies building cars or engines in the UK owned by EU companies, it makes sense that the manufacturing industry is overwhelmingly in favour of Remain.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is leading the automotive lobbying effort for Remain.
“The message from UK Automotive is clear: being in Europe is vital for the future of this industry and to secure jobs, investment and growth,” said SMMT CEO Mike Hawes. “UK Automotive is thriving, with record car exports and new registrations and the highest manufacturing levels for a decade. Our members have stated that pulling out of Europe could jeopardise this.”
Nissan employs 8000 people in the UK and is our biggest car maker, with more than 475,000 cars built last year and 80% exported to the EU. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said: “We believe it makes the most sense for jobs, trade and costs for the UK to stay in Europe. A position of stability is more positive than a collection of unknowns.”
The UK has a unique position in the global industry as a maker of luxury cars, epitomised by Volkswagen-owned Bentley, which has enjoyed more than £1.5bn of investment since 2001 and last year made 4000 cars with around 10,000 employees. “We are in the middle of an £840m investment programme, a large proportion of which is in our factory in Crewe,” said a spokesman. “We will continue to make investment decisions on a case-by-case basis.”
Vauxhall makes cars in Ellesmere Port and vans in Luton. It said: “Vauxhall is part of a fully integrated European company, benefiting from the free movement of goods and people within the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU. For the UK not to be part of the EU would be undesirable for our business and the sector as a whole.”
The Italian-American Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is not an obvious contributor to the Brexit debate, except that last year it moved its corporate HQ to London. FCA is, however, unusual in that it is not publicly pro-Remain. “We are neutral on Brexit and don’t have a view,” said a spokesman. “It is up to the British people to decide.”
IMPORTERS AND DEALERS
The bosses of several importers recently spoke clearly in favour of Remain at a panel discussion ahead of last month’s Autocar Awards, and all five industry bosses present unanimously backed Remain.
“Ford is very clear,” said Ford of Britain chairman Andy Barratt. “We want a stable economic environment. To cut ties with our biggest trading partner is plain wrong.”
This message was echoed by Tony Whitehorn, president of Hyundai Motor UK. “Over the next two years, if we exit Europe, we will have more instability,” he said. “And no one wants instability.”
Mitsubishi Motors UK managing director Lance Bradley said: “Uncertainty kills businesses and an exit vote will bring enormous uncertainty for at least two years after, and maybe five years.”
Continuing the theme, Paul Williams, CEO of Ssangyong UK, said: “Businesses are all about certainty and Brexit means uncertainty.”
Volvo Cars UK’s customer services director, David Baddeley, held a similar view. “We are for staying,” he said. “Stability is the basis for business development and strong investment.”
The National Franchised Dealer Association (NFDA), which counts 4500 main dealer sites as members, ran a poll earlier this year and 42% came out for Remain, the balance split between undecided and Brexit. “The bulk of main dealers want to remain in the EU,” said NFDA boss Sue Robinson. “That’s particularly true of the bigger dealers with close links to manufacturers.”
Smaller independent dealers are understood to be split, with some hoping to shed red tape with a Brexit.