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UK car industry calls for fresh investment after dire 2022 output

Last year was the worst for UK car production since 1956, with output throttled by ongoing global supply-chain issues and the recent closure of two of the country’s largest plants. 

A total of 775,014 cars left UK factories in 2022, down 9.8% on 2021 but – more starkly and significantly – a huge 40.8% down on pre-pandemic 2019, when more than 1.3 million cars were built.

Figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have laid bare the impact of various geopolitical issues and supply constrictions on the British automotive industry – as well as highlighting, according to chief executive Mike Hawes, the critical need to attract new investment. 

The impact of Honda’s factory in Swindon closing in 2021 was evident. Even though the facility stopped production in July of that year, it still contributed nearly 55,000 cars to the annual tally. 

So too did the end of Vauxhall Astra production in Ellesmere Port in March have a dramatic effect, with output there dropping from 32,000 cars in 2021 to just 9510 in 2022.

However, it wasn’t just these two shutdowns that brought about the decline, explained Hawes: “The global shortages in the supply chain, most obviously of semiconductors, affected different companies, as always, in different ways. 

“Some of the small-volume manufacturers, especially those who have larger parents, were generally okay on supply, and consequently their volumes were very strong. Other companies were more exposed.” 

Illustrating his point, production of the Toyota Corolla at Burnaston dropped from 130,739 to 105,590 cars year on year, while Jaguar Land Rover‘s output was down 8.1% across its Castle Bromwich, Halewood and Solihull factories. 

The SMMT also blamed a succession of Covid lockdowns in China affecting component suppliers and the restricted supply of wiring harnesses from Ukraine as a factor in the downturn.

There was better news to be found at the lower-volume premium marques, with Bentley and Rolls-Royce boosting volumes by around 8% (each for a second consecutive record year).

However, Hawes explained that the UK’s car industry can’t be wholly sustained by low-volume production, however profitable it becomes (the average Rolls-Royce sold for £430,000 in 2022). 

“Undoubtedly you need large volume manufacturing to sustain the supply chain,” he told Autocar. “And there are so many vehicle manufacturers that have had an absolutely torrid time because they’re going further down the supply chain by definition.

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