‘We seem hell bent on damaging our reputation’ – car industry body attacks diesel policy and hard Brexit
The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the trade body that represents the UK car industry, has called for faster progress in agreeing a Brexit transition period, and criticised the government for "demonising" diesel.
Speaking to over a thousand industry leaders at the organisation’s annual dinner in London, SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes outlined some of the "huge challenges" facing the British carmaking industry.
"Our contribution to the UK economy – to the fabric of this country – is great," he said.
"We are job creators and export leaders; we are innovators in advanced manufacturing and connectivity; and we provide the mobility products and services on which the economy depends. Given our importance and potential we need government – all of government – aligned to create the right conditions.
"A good Brexit deal will be fundamental to those competitive conditions. But there is more that can be done here and now.
"Whether you see it as a sprint or a marathon, a bad Brexit deal would mean the UK is the only country running a steeplechase."
These comments come one day after the government released its Industrial Strategy white paper, which includes a Sector Deal for the automotive industry and acknowledges that nearly 300,000 people are employed in vehicle manufacturing and the carmaking supply chain.
Mr Hawes renewed his calls for a transitional deal, which in June he said was necessary to prevent the car industry from falling off a "cliff edge".
President of the SMMT Tony Walker urged the government not to "undermine" the industry’s hard-won competitiveness with a hard Brexit and called for faster progress on the transition period.
"We need to see concrete progress, and quickly," he said.
We have torn down
so many barriers. Please don't allow new ones to be erected
"We will never stop striving to be competitive. But we ask government to help provide the conditions in which we can compete. Like every other industry, we need certainty now.
"Competitiveness comes hard-won. It can be easily lost. A hard Brexit would undermine all that we have collectively achieved. It is a real threat – a hurdle we cannot ignore."
The SMMT estimates that WTO tariffs would add at least £4.5bn to the industry’s annual overheads in the case of a hard Brexit, in addition to further cost implications associated with changes to customs checks, goods fees and border processing.
According to SMMT figures, more than 1,100 lorries cross from Europe into the UK every day to deliver components for the British automotive industry, the majority without being checked at customs. These trucks deliver £35m worth of parts to build 6,600 cars and 9,800 engines every single day – most of which are subsequently shipped back to the EU by similar means.
Mr Walker also called for greater clarity on diesel cars, and for an end to what he described as punitive measures on the latest diesel and petrol cars which hamper sales and investment.
A hard Brexit would undermine all that we have collectively achieved
"Banning diesel and petrol cars might be a soundbite that works, but it’s not a policy that works. If you ban them you disrupt the new car market, and you hamper investment in the electric, emission-free vehicles of tomorrow.
"You set the future back."
The annual SMMT dinner took place against a backdrop of slight pessimism within the automotive industry. Domestic demand has fallen for the ninth consecutive month, with diesel sales plummeting, and annual UK production forecasts have been revised down from around 1.8m units to 1.73m.
82.1 per cent of cars built in the UK were shipped abroad in October, the majority destined for Europe – Britain’s biggest automotive trading partner.
"Uncertainty about Brexit – and market confusion over diesel – are taking their toll," said Walker.