UK Auto Production Plunges to 7-Year Low on Slumping Global Demand & “No Deal” Brexit Fears

Investment in the auto sector grinds to a halt.

By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET:

Production of vehicles in the UK plunged 20% in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period last year, as the fallout from sharply declining demand in key export markets such as Europe and China as well as fears of a no-deal Brexit took a heavy toll on the sector, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Engine manufacturing dropped 10% during the same period. And commercial vehicle production, until recently a rare silver lining for the embattled sector, collapsed 57% in June year-over-year, dragging down the first half by 15%.

Britain’s car industry has now racked up 13 straight months of declining vehicle production and ten straight months of declining engine production. In 2018, car output fell 9.1% to 1.52 million units, a five-year low for the sector. But the way things are going, 2019 is likely to be a lot worse. This chart (courtesy of SMMT) depicts rolling-12-month car production totals:

Rolling-year total production — the total amount produced over the previous twelve-month period — hit a post-crisis peak of around 1.75 million units in mid-2016, just after the Brexit referendum. Since then, rolling year totals have fallen 23% to 1.35 million last month, down by around 400,000 units from the 2016 high. The last time it was this low was in 2012.

In the first six months this year, 666,521 cars rolled off the production lines , a year-on-year loss of 168,052 units. Around one out of five of the cars manufactured in the UK are bought by UK consumers. And those consumers are consuming less and less, sending sales to a five-year low in the first half of 2019. Production for the UK market fell 16.4% during the same period. That’s a total of 26,000 fewer cars being built for British consumers.

But it’s in the export market, accounting for four out of five cars produced in the UK, where the most pain is being felt. The number of cars produced for export tumbled 21% in the first six months of 2019, to 533,318. All of the sector’s top global markets saw sliding sales, with the US down 12.9%, China down 53.1%, Japan 10.5% and Turkey 93.0%. Demand in the UK’s biggest market, the EU, accounting for just over half of all exports, fell, by 15.6%.

“Today’s figures are the result of global instability compounded by ongoing fear of ‘no deal’,” said Mike Hawes, CEO of SMMT, in a statement on Wednesday. “This fear is causing investment to stall, as hundreds of millions of pounds are diverted … money that would be better spent tackling technological and environmental challenges.”

Automakers have already spent £330 million to mitigate the risks from a disorderly exit, according to SMMT. Most major UK manufacturers “have tied up working capital, stockpiling materials and components, securing warehousing capacity and investing in new logistics solutions, additional insurance and training in new customs procedures,” the industry group noted. But mitigating Brexit-related risks is an almost impossible challenge when there’s absolutely no clarity as to when the UK may leave the EU, assuming it actually does.

It’s no coincidence that the worst month for UK automakers was April, when year-on-year output plunged by 44%, as factory shutdowns, designed to mitigate against the fallout of a March 29 hard-Brexit, took effect in many plants. Manufacturers like BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, and Honda had scheduled months ahead of the original Brexit deadline a prolonged shutdown of their manufacturing operations amid fears they would not be able to get parts and components from the EU in time, due to border chaos. When Brexit was delayed at the last minute, it was too late to un-schedule the scheduled shutdown.

The irony is that car manufacturers, having bet the house preparing for a no-deal Brexit at the end of March, will not be able to repeat the exercise for the next scheduled Brexit deadline, in 90 days’ time. Which means if there is a “no-deal” Brexit, it will be harder for the industry to respond to it. And right now, the odds of a “no-deal” Brexit are arguably higher than ever, particularly in light of the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, regardless of whether he can secure a revised transition deal with the bloc.

Even if there isn’t a hard Brexit at the end of October and the UK and the EU agree to punt the Brexit deadline even further into the future, the damage to the UK’s car industry from the prolonged uncertainty over Brexit is still likely to be huge. As SMMT warns, inward investment into the sector has already “effectively stopped” until more clarity emerges. Just £90 million was spent on new developments in the first six months of the year, a drop in the ocean compared to the average annual investment figure of £2.7 billion over the previous seven years.

In a recent letter to Boris Johnson, Mike Hawes warned that a “no-deal Brexit” poses “an existential threat to our industry”. He implored Johnson to sign a deal with the EU that would “secure frictionless and tariff free trade,” adding that a “‘no-deal’ Brexit is simply not an option.” For the moment, at least in his public persona, Boris Johnson would beg to differ. By Nick Corbishley, for WOLF STREET.

Driven by the Diesel Death-Spiral, a “decline in buyer confidence,” and plunging sales of plug-in hybrids, auto sales in the UK get clobbered. But EV sales soar. Read…  UK Auto Sales Drop to Five-Year Low in First Half

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  50 comments for “UK Auto Production Plunges to 7-Year Low on Slumping Global Demand & “No Deal” Brexit Fears

  1. Covey says:

    The current woe’s in the UK automotive sector are largely down to knee jerk UK Government actions following the VW “dieselgate” scandal in the US. When it became apparent that VW had been falsifying the emission figures, the UK Government felt it needed “to do something”

    That something was to announce that all diesel and petrol cars would be banned from 2040, at which point the Green Party and others started a campaign to reduce that to 2030. The Government announced that contrary to previous policy, “diesel was bad” and imposed higher taxes on buying new diesel cars. Result…..Sales of diesel cars immediately dropped substantially, and the second hand value of diesel cars dropped by 30-40%.

    Jaguar Landrover, our largest “British” volume car producer found itself with 81% of its vehicle range powered by very efficient diesel engines, which suddenly, nobody wanted to buy. At the same time the US President, for lack of anything else to do, decided to start a trade war with China, and the knock on effects of this trade war on Jaguar were severe. I am not sure how many agree with the Presidents Tweets that he is winning the trade war, but yesterday he decided to up the ante again with more tariffs.

    The recent EU/Japan Trade Deal means that Japanese car manufacturers no longer have to manufacture in Europe to be tariff free. Japan can now export cars manufactured in Japan direct to the EU tariff free. The result of the trade deal means that Honda are shutting their UK car plant. Japan would rather provide jobs in Japanese factories than run a duplicate supply chain in the EU.

    None of the above is caused by, or driven by the UK economy, or by our impending Brexit. It is caused by Government policy in the UK and EU with little consideration to the effects of that policy.

    • Nicko2 says:

      ICE is a dead-end technology, electric is the future. Perhaps the UK should invest in the future for once.

      • NBay says:

        Only if right source of amps comes out of wall. Very small turbo high tech ICE (ceramics?) in small Mini Cooper) car might be very good intermediate till fossil fuel is finally saved only for where it is absolutely necessary. UK doing a lot with wind and wave energy machines, I think, and that’s the end of it all that really counts.

      • MCH says:

        You mean by investing in Tesla?

        Or perhaps BYD? Or one of the hundreds (I jest) of Chinese EV companies?

        To the future.

        Anyway, the biggest problem that the Brits are facing is this prolonged Brexit negotiation. Having voted for the divorce, now the Brits are dragging this thing out because they want to still be pals.

        If I may use an analogy, in this case, the EU was the good husband (in so far as a debt ridden about to collapse into a mess insanity can be a “good husband”) that got scorned, and has now been turned into the husband from hell, dead set on either making sure the Brits are humiliated in every way possible on the way out the door, or made to beg to be let back into the house that is the EU.

        The Brits in the same token is the schizophrenic wife who doesn’t know what’s good for her, sometimes she wants and amicable split, other times, she wants to just leave, oh, and did I forget to mention the part that wants to stay? In fact both the more extreme position has its advantages, but she just can’t bring herself to do one thing or the other, instead, she wants this not possible position of an amicable split.

        Seriously, the Brits need to decide to either stay, or go… don’t do this half ass, I want an amicable divorce bit, it sucks. Either crawl back to the boss at Brussels and beg for forgiveness, or have the pride to just walk away.

        • NBay says:

          Loved the funny analogy. Don’t know anyone’s Politics well enough (would likely argue insiders don’t either, but more than me for sure) to comment. Anyway, seems like good place to say I get an immense kick out of laid-back Speaker. Maybe a Brit could shatter my opinion of him, but why wreck a guy’s totally harmless fantasy?

        • char says:

          The EU is still a “good husband”,problem is more that the UK wants a divorce but still wants a f*ck 3x a week and still wants to live in the same house but also wants an affaire with a steroid junk with a habit of beating up their partners.

          ps. No to the full Britain Backstop. Only NI. Barnier was a bad negotiator.

      • Ian says:

        Electric the future is it? I suppose the power in the socket just materialises out of thin air? And the 200 mile range (downhill, wind behind you, no passengers and no luggage) will be just great on that long trip, never mind a caravan or trailer. And good luck waiting for an ambulance or fire engine, sorry sir all our vehicles are out or on charge.

      • Kenny Logouts says:

        The UK works behind time and tech, not ahead.

        Not the best way to run a civilisation but there you go, people vote for this kind of stupidity.

        In my view ICE is fine, the fuel source is the issue, especially if it’s burned in cities.

        Fuel can be made from air (seemingly, check recent IEEE Spectrum magazine).
        Cities shouldn’t have cars in them to begin with. You should build effective public transport systems.

        ICE is a “failure” because politicians have failed to do their job.

    • stan6565 says:

      9 months ago, I bought a brand new £60k diesel car for £40k. 3L engine, 260bhp. I can now take it into central London ELEZ (extra low emission zone), free of charge, it is so good and clean. My wife’s 1.2L bluemotion Polo attracts a £12 daily fee.

      That schmuck Micky Gove said we’ll have to abolish diesel cars by 2030. Half of cars in UK to be scrapped in 10 years!

      I don’t know, I must be missing something real big here.

      • NBay says:

        Let me know what happens when you put that 260bhp engine power to the pavement in central London, ok? Thanks.

        • Bill from Australia says:

          If only, with the average speed in London less than 20miles per hour you can but dream .

        • stan6565 says:

          The point was that due to the yet another dumb scare (diesel) people are knee jerking and I got myself a top of the range BMW for 2/3rds of its normal price, loaded with any extras one can imagine. Allows, leathers, electronics you name it. But, its engine technology is so clean that even the stern London Major Herr Khan lets me into town for free.

          Thanks for asking about the performance; step out of town and no problemo, on a m-way it does a 100mph and the ride is as smooth as baby’s bottom.

        • NBay says:

          What is an “allows”? Brit term?

        • stan6565 says:

          Ha ha ha. “Allows”, Brit term, as you term it, is actually “Alloys”, another Brit Term, but without a typo.

          Try getting out more. Meet people, see world.

      • Kenny Logins says:

        You are. Politicians think that London is the UK.
        And they think by saying any old bollocks that might seem popular, makes reality change and problems go away.

        I’d love to see a diesel ban. Farmers and hauliers I assume get an exception?
        Why, because diesel is more efficient and cost effective. Oh. So why not for cars?
        Well. Congestion in cities is why.
        So why not build more public transport, or just ban certain vehicles from cities?
        Because “sound byte” popularity bollocks.

        And we wonder why the UK isn’t doing so well with these morons at the helm.

    • Wisoot says:

      @ Covey
      “the US President, for lack of anything else to do, decided to start a trade war with China,” – if lets say 5G makes humans infertile, wouldn’t the USA want to be in charge of the roll out of 5G rather than giving that liberty to China?

      Not enough research currently to evidence that 5G is ‘human’ safe but there is one 5G trial (and I suspect another near an airforce base in Australia) where birds have died en masse bleeding from the mouth, extreme internal bleeding as a result of ruptured livers, damage to the blood vessels, lungs and heart.

      If I were a president, I would want complete control and management of such a tool, wouldn’t you?

      Instead of UK citizens mandatory payment of the BBC TV licence, it will change to a broadband licence – anyone with a laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Effectively the tax payer will be voluntarily paying for the installation of the 5G network which may inflict unknown health disadvantages. The Government has a larger agenda than UK sovereignty yet if they pushed Brexit through (there is no hard or soft, it is just Brexit), the UK could adapt faster and focus on growing new industries (forestry for one – they have dragged their feet with their own reforesting targets) which are less polluting and more sustainable.

      @ article author Nick

      It would be a worrying trend if products continued on an ever increasing demand curve. This would signal human evolution and market tastes standing still. To understand a potential market demise, trend is better viewed over longer periods than 6 years as shown in the data above. To view data from 2000 to 2018 would be more instructive.

    • NBay says:

      Hey Nick! You have any data on how McLaren is doing in their car market? Loved that outfit since CanAm days. And am very grateful to Ron Dennis for spotting, and mostly for helping Hamilton when old man worked two jobs to keep him in karts. Real rags to riches stuff, and well DESERVED.

  2. HMG says:

    I guess the Brexit negotiations must be coming to an end. It all has some similarities to a high stakes Poker Game. Let’s hope Boris knows how to play this final hand on behalf of the UK.

    • Unamused says:

      Let’s hope Boris knows how to play this final hand on behalf of the UK.

      Poker is a game of skill, HMG. Besides, AB de PJ is bluffing on an offsuit 7-2 with a two-gapper and is sweating profusely.

      Hope is such a cruel, cruel thing.

      • NBay says:

        “simultaneously our greatest weakness and greatest strength” -Matrix
        As always, I agree with your well written, often humorous takes on reality. Keep on smacking the pseudo-intellecuals.

  3. Joe Lalonde says:

    In Canada, people are broke and our government doesn’t care.
    Currently giving away millions weekly to our media while jacking more taxes on us. Subsidizing businesses are now the new normal.

    • Nicko2 says:

      On the contrary, the Canadian economy is doing so well, they didn’t even lower interest rates.

      • qt says:

        LOL keep telling yourself that

      • robt says:

        You missed the part about the government giving millions (actually, 595 million dollars over 5 years) to ‘support and assist’ the ‘private’ media, presumably as long as they behave. You simply have to apply to a government bureaucrat for funding.
        This would be in addition to the state-owned and heavily subsidized CBC ‘News’ Network.
        Apparently it’s working; everything’s fine, just read or watch the news to confirm it.

      • Wisoot says:

        LoL : )

    • MCH says:

      Yet as an American, I want to go north of the border to buy stuff, cause my dollar has more purchasing power. Does that sound wrong?

      Yet, for some reason, and I heard this from my brother in law, the Canadians from around Vancouver area keeps driving into Washington to get gas. (at least the ones close to the borders do) Go figure.

  4. Iamafan says:

    The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United Kingdom was worth 2,825.21 billion US dollars in 2018 (from Trading Economics).
    But the UK has 1,744 billion in Long Term US Dollar Securities (Source: TICDATA)
    More than a trillion of that is invested in US Stocks.
    So the Brits have joined the Wall Street Ferris wheel.
    No need to work and be productive. Let my stock and bonds do the work.
    I’ve got the Fed backing me *well I hope so.

    • Unamused says:

      I’ve got the Fed backing me *well I hope so.

      The Fed obeys orders, and hope is such a cruel, cruel thing.

      The easiest way to avoid a recession is to refuse to admit you’re already in one. Most people have been in one for years and won’t know the difference.

      • NBay says:

        Totally agree, but that’s in USA. How would Fed, IMF, Davos/Jackson, etc, Econ super brains define “recession” in, say Somalia? Body count? I mean, it IS technically a sovereign….

        On the bright side, though, sorta, for now, etc…..”ignorance is bliss”-Matrix, yet again?

        Have to look into this Matrix fetish of mine.

  5. Iamafan says:

    Heard about the US Beef Exports to Europe. The French has their Charolaise (and the Limousine). The Italians have their Chianina (and a few others). I don’t think you can beat the Brits for their cows and beef. So he jokes about tariffing Mercedes and BMW 25%.

  6. Tom says:

    Hard Brexit, and don’t look back.
    Short term pain, long term gain.
    Fewer parasites feeding on the host ( commoners ).

  7. Michael Engel says:

    1) How can u drive in Europe when the Alps are underwater, due
    to the global worms.
    2) You need a big yacht, not a car.
    3) All rates in Switzerland & Europe are negative, underwater, but UK still floating above the waves, like a corked bottle from a lost sailor.
    4) FTSE, weekly, bar chart, 2018/2019 // Ask a 5Y kid : which
    bar among the x3 tops is largest : the one on the right.
    5) Draw SPX, DOW, NDX : again, the one on the right.
    6) A 5Y old kid can teach us how to jog and how to invest.
    The are natural, smarter than we are.

  8. Cyclops says:

    Deplorable English working class in Midlands who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit opened a smelly can of worms!

    • NBay says:

      Likely true, but as Nick points out they will suffer for it, which will be nothing compared to “undeveloped people”. Still hurts.

  9. Just Some Random Guy says:

    Brexit is happening, Boris will make it so. And it will be glorious to watch as the elites gets slapped once again. Wonder if anchors at the BBC will cry like anchors at NBC and ABC cried when OrangeManBad was elected?

    • J.M.Keynes says:

      – Wrong. Like in the US (think: Trump’s idiotic economic policies) the average Household will feel the pain of the Brexit the most.
      – When I look at the economic data of the UK then I see an economic basket case. An economy that’s being subsidized by e.g. the Eurozone (predominantly Germany).
      – There is a very simple medicine to cure the (current) english disaease:
      1) Increase taxation by say 5%, 10% or 20% across the board
      2) Lower wages across the board by 5, 10 or 20%.
      – Like the US, the UK has gone through a credit binge as well since say the year 1980 (thank you Maggie Thatcher).
      – The debt-to-GDP ratio of the UK is higher than that ofthe US.

      And B(l)o-Jo is going to fix that with the Brexit ? Yeah, sure. And I have a bridge called “Tower Bridge” (in London) which you can buy from me for a special price.

      • Just Some Random Guy says:

        – Wrong. Like in the US (think: Trump’s idiotic economic policies) the average Household will feel the pain of the Brexit the most.


        Snort. Lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. Yeah dude, it’s like a depression out there under OrangeManBad Trump.

      • NBay says:

        Since you insist on speaking from the grave, what happened to, “When the situation changes, I change my mind”?

    • Rocky says:

      I love Brexit. It has been great fun. Of course, this is true because I can’t stand the English. Watching them shoot themselves in both feet because they can’t stand the notion of living next door to a Polish Plumber has been hilarious fun. Its even better now with BoJoke promising to send the English economy into a far worse economic drop than that of the Great Recession. And bragging about it while he does it. Hilarious!!! Watching a PM chosen by a crazy group of about 70,000 elite citizens then destroy the country by sheer stupidity is the best entertainment that anyone in any country that once had the misfortune to be part of the English Imperial Empire could have. Should win an award for best comedy show in the world!

      • fajensen says:

        Brexit is like a Mexican donkey show: I don’t think we will ever get to see “the act”. Nobody does.

        But the cold beer is cheap, the servers hot and the hawkers are really making an effort selling the upcoming show so we of course stay and watch for a while longer.

        There is nothing better on TV anyway.

  10. J.M.Keynes says:

    – There are 2 other reasons for the slowdown of the british economy:
    1) there is still a “debt overhang” in the UK that’s a burden for british citizens who have/are retiring.
    2) In 2012 & 2013 the birtish government helped first time buyers to buy a house with a loan with a (very) low interest rate. It helped to boost the housing market for a while and in some regions the housing market went haywire. I write “for a while” because after say 5 years the borrower has to refinance that loan but now with a (much) higher (market) interest rate. And that’s going to hurt/is already hurting those borrowers in particular, and the british economy in general.
    3) British companies feared a “No-deal” Brexit and ordered (& produced) more stuff than they needed for their current demand/production. But now production is taken a beating because all that ordered stuff is coming out of the production and that surpluss production is now clogging the storage facilities.

  11. andy says:

    EU needs UK more than UK needs EU.
    Boris will achieve hard Brexit.
    Pound will fall torching German and French exports, which will collapse EU banks and force EBC to call in guarantees from constituent governments. Those govts will default and ECB/EU will collapse.
    All by Christmas 2019.

    • Chelsea says:

      And then they’ll have the Big Unicorn Parade in London.

    • Cashboy says:

      I am with you on Brexit and can see the EC zone suffering within two years of the UK leaving.
      Germany will be in recession now and hopefully Trump will slap import taxes on EC imports as Trump hates Merkel and French Macron.

  12. Goldman Sachs says:

    Brexit is a heavily politicised and thus over-hyped issue. Issue is more Political and International Relations than Economic. Economics is but one part of the picture (and a not very accurate one at that, one of speculative over-hype). Similar to US-China trade war. That is entirely International Relations. When people go around trying to use economic only theories to discuss these subjects they’re already missing the primary pieces of the picture.

  13. Iamafan says:

    Is this going to be the future of any “rich” nation who has hitched their wagon to the American economy? Wonder what the future holds? Shouldn’t Asia be more vibrant in the future? Isn’t that the real reason for the so-called Trade War?

  14. Datsun says:

    Not once in my entire lifetime have I ever been even vaguely tempted to buy a UK produced automobile. The two words that would pop immediately into my mind about a UK car would be “unreliable” and “overpriced”. Followed quickly by the word “junk”. The only happy person when you buy a UK car is your auto mechanic who can already sense that vacation home by the lake coming into his reach from all the money she/he will make off you.

  15. fajensen says:

    ”He needs me …” – whines the narcissist partner when getting cold feet over the upcoming divorce and the somewhat flaccid response on Tinder over her heavily retouched photos intended to show off her former glories as they once were!

    The EU will be better off without the foot-dragging English.

    Sadly, with the Tories collapsing a little bit more for each day passing, Boris won’t be able to pull Brexit off at any date and Nigel Farage enjoys being the “Glorious leader of the brave Brexiteers” (and the recipient of much dark sponsorship money) far, far, far, too much for him to get the UK to ever actually leave the EU!

    Which is OK in a way because all the Brexiteers ever actually wanted and dreamt fondly about was their Betrayal!

    A.K.A. Something solid to rant about for the next 40 years down at the boozer.

  16. stan6565 says:

    Some visitors here seem to be, like flies, irresistibly attracted to any mention of word “Brexit”.

    The article was about sagging auto sales, which is worldwide related to oversupply of cars, lack of moneymaking in advanced economies and among other things, corrupt governmental propping of ineffective “national car making champions” (France got 4 manufacturers of ICE cars that don’t start in wet/cold :).

    However there is always a gaggle of by now familiar names/commenters here who can only see another opportunity to flush their bile on the Brits, just because Brits voted, democratically, to vacate the perpetual contributing role in a corrupt, undemocratic and for all intents and purposes completely failed construct still known as EU.

    Get a life fellas, go to cinema instead.

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