Currently reading: Car industry: tariff-free EU trade deal vital to secure investment
SMMT president says Brexit uncertainty is harming industry’s push for EVs and autonomy

The UK car industry is “in the fight of our generation” for its survival due to the transformation sparked by electrification, autonomy and environmental concerns – and securing a tariff-free trade deal will be vital to ensuring it can thrive post-Brexit.

That’s the view of George Gillespie, the president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Speaking at the organisation’s annual dinner, he said uncertainty since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU has cost the industry billions in investment, risking the ability of UK firms to develop future technology.

Talking about the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU, Gillespie said: “We need frictionless, tariff-free trade. Access to the best talent. Preferential access to markets across the world. And we ask that our political leaders recognise the conditions our sector needs to continue to be world leading and to work with us to deliver them.”

The SMMT estimates that the introduction of World Trade Organisation tariffs on exports from the UK to the EU would add £3 billion in costs.

Gillespie added that UK car firms have already “wasted millions” on no-deal Brexit preparation and that uncertainty has hit long-term investment.

“Before the referendum, it [investment] averaged £2.5 billion per year,” he said. “Until recent new announcements, that figure had fallen to a paltry £90 million in the first half of this year. Across every UK manufacturer, that is barely enough to keep our existing plants operational.

“It doesn’t need to be this way. If we can secure a European trading arrangement that gives us frictionless and tariff-free trade, this industry is committed enough, passionate enough, driven enough to make it work.”

Gillespie said lost investment is particularly damaging due to the “unprecedented changes” the industry is undergoing. Describing the push to reduce emissions and make roads safer as “our responsibility”, Gillespie added: “The future belongs to those of us who can blend our existing strengths with emerging technologies and processes from these adjacent industries. 

“This is where the UK punches above its weight. We have a unique approach to collaboration and joint industry-government investment set against national priorities.  

“We have a clear game plan, a roadmap for the technology innovation we need to focus on. We must not let the pressure of Brexit deflect from our focus on a coherent national industrial strategy. Collaboration between industry and government must be stronger than ever.”


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James Attwood

James Attwood, digital editor
Title: Acting magazine editor

James is Autocar's acting magazine editor. Having served in that role since June 2023, he is in charge of the day-to-day running of the world's oldest car magazine, and regularly interviews some of the biggest names in the industry to secure news and features, such as his world exclusive look into production of Volkswagen currywurst. Really.

Before first joining Autocar in 2017, James spent more than a decade in motorsport journalist, working on Autosport,, F1 Racing and Motorsport News, covering everything from club rallying to top-level international events. He also spent 18 months running Move Electric, Haymarket's e-mobility title, where he developed knowledge of the e-bike and e-scooter markets. 

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NotHandMade 28 November 2019

Use the withdrawal Agreement

The Withdrawal Agreement gives the auto industry exactly this so just get the deal passed. Plus we won't have to live with freedom to (overpopulate) movement, or the end of the rebate and next EU budget in 2021 or risk another Tony Blair like leader taking us into the much talked about "European Army".

If the deal had already been passed this article would not exist.

TStag 27 November 2019

If this is such a great idea

If this is such a great idea why hasn’t anyone else done it yet?

fsizer 27 November 2019


Use your imagination guys. The world is a big place and there are plenty of others that also don't want to be in the EU.

typos1 27 November 2019

fsizer wrote:

fsizer wrote:

Use your imagination guys. The world is a big place and there are plenty of others that also don't want to be in the EU.

The world is may be a big place but all the countries in it do most of their trade with their nearerst neighbours, so its size is totally irrelevant.


As for there being "plenty of others that also dont want to be in th EU", that is total BS - public opinion in all the other 27 countries is pro EU and against leaving, plus the last 3.5 years havent exactly been plain sailing.


As for "using imagination" - what like the leave campaigns who used their "imagination" to invent lies in order to win the referendum, or "imaginative" accounting to commit electoral fraud ? Yeah, thanks for that advice.