Is the UK's Car Industry Under Attack?

Since covid, the UK's car industry appears to have been under attack. First there was the chip shortage (as in computer, not potato), a situation that caused a huge slowdown in car production here and abroad as companies struggled to source enough for all the tasks these things perform in a modern car. Then, in April, there were rumours that the Land Rover brand might be scrapped. In fact, it will remain as a so-called technology 'trust mark' underpinning the Range Rover, Defender and Discovery brands. Finally, the following month the bosses of Stellantis, the group that owns Vauxhall and Peugeot, of Ford and of Jaguar Land Rover criticised forthcoming UK trade rules which, they claim, threaten the future of car building in this country by imposing additional tariffs on exports not containing enough UK or EU-derived parts.

It's all enough to make you want to go for a long drive somewhere nice, which we heartily recommend. But before you do, we thought you'd welcome some good news about the UK's car industry in the form of enlightening facts and stats to entertain friends and family. They're all contained in the otherwise dreadfully dry-sounding 'SMMT Motor Industry Facts 2023'. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is the mouthpiece of the UK's motor industry and what it doesn't know about cars and the industry that makes and supports them, isn't worth knowing. Here are the best bits from this year's report…

UK manufacturers built 775,014 cars in 2022

Granted, that's a lot less than recent years and puts us in 17th place in the world's league of car makers and sixth in Europe but so far this year production is up, helped by those aforementioned computer chips reappearing after a long absence. Meanwhile, building all those cars are not only four mainstream car makers and but also more than 60 specialist manufacturers, relying on more than 2500 UK suppliers. To cap it all, we export 80% of the cars we make, most of them to Europe, which helps balance the UK's books.

Most of the cars we make are petrol powered

That's not surprising now that diesel is 'automota non grata' but petrol engines are themselves living on borrowed time since no new petrol cars can be sold after 2030. With that in prospect, in the past 12 months almost three times as many hybrid engines (engines that combine an electric motor with either a petrol or a diesel motor but more often the former) have been built than diesels. More importantly, electric motor production is rising, such that slightly more were built last year than diesels. With 2030 approaching, the UK needs to build many more to be prepared for the switch to electric cars.

Nissan is our biggest car maker

We say 'our' but in fact it's part of an alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi. Still, it's got a big, successful factory in Sunderland, so feels British. It's followed in the rankings by Jaguar Land Rover, Mini, Toyota and, perhaps surprisingly, Bentley.

The automotive industry employs a lot of people

That's an understatement. Almost 800,000 people, or one in 14 of the UK workforce, are employed making, selling, repairing and servicing vehicles, with 40,000 more jobs expected to be created by 2030 when, save for hybrids which will stagger on until 2035, only electric cars will be built and sold.

New car registrations are down…

In fact, they're up! Granted, they have fallen due to factors such as covid and computer chip shortages but in recent months they have increased and were up almost 12% in April. Encouraged by the news, the SMMT has revised its 2023 outlook from 1.79 million units to 1.83m. The biggest selling new car in 2022 was the Nissan Qashqai and guess what, it's made in the UK.

We love superminis, for now…

The biggest selling type of new car is the supermini. Think Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta. The next is the medium-size family car characterised by models such as the Ford Focus and VW Golf. However, sales of SUVs (the letters stand for sports utility vehicle and models include the Kia Sportage and Volvo XC40) are fast catching up and likely to overtake both of them soon.

We're colour blind

For most of the past 22 years, greys and silvers have been new car buyers' preferred choice of colours. It doesn't say much about our imagination, especially since the second and third most popular ones have been black and white respectively. However, look around, and you'll see more new cars, especially electric ones, in muted greens and browns, colours associated with the environment. 

Breathe – a little better

Average emissions for newly registered cars fell 6.2% to 111.4g/km C02 in 2023. However, the EU target is 95g/km, so there's a way to go. Electric cars should help bring down the average. That said, these same cars may be responsible for an increase in another potentially deadly pollutant – tyre emissions. EVs are heavy and powerful, so exert a greater load on their tyres, wearing them out faster. The rubber particles end up in water courses as well as in the atmosphere.

New cars are safer (even if their drivers aren't)

More new cars have driver assistance systems designed to prevent accidents or reduce their severity. They include distance indication from the car in front, advanced emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic dip and main beam functions, forward collision warning and overtaking sensors.

35 million and counting…

The last fact guaranteed to win you the lasting admiration of friends and family for your knowledge of all things automotive is that there are no less than 35,023,652 cars on the road, more than half of them petrol powered. The average age of all of these cars is 8.7 years, the highest figure recorded. The SMMT says this is evidence of the improving reliability of new cars but as any member of MotorEasy who has experienced a vehicle breakdown or unexpected repair bill knows, this statement is itself, unreliable…

View all articles