UK car exports hit record high

Marion Dakers

UK exported more cars than ever before in 2012, figures revealed yesterday, providing a much-needed boost for the country’s manufacturing sector.

British factories made 1.46m cars last year, a rise of nine per cent and the highest number since 2007 – and experts predict further growth in the years ahead,

Of these, 1.21m were sold abroad, beating a previous record of 1.19m set in 2007.

Exports have more than doubled in the last 20 years, and more than four-fifths of cars made in Britain are now sent overseas.

Many firms have brushed off dwindling demand from recession-hit Europe, which earlier in the week reported an 8.2 per cent slump in new car registrations to an 18-year low, in favour of fast-growing economies in Asia and Latin America.

Jaguar Land Rover, which has five British factories, this week revealed that China had leapfrogged the UK to become its biggest market, helping the company post record-breaking sales. The firm also said it would create up to 800 new jobs at its Solihull factory, following a remarkable turnaround from near-collapse in 2008, when it was taken over by Tata Motors.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which compiled the export figures, said the overall outlook remains good for 2013.

“The £6bn of investment committed to UK facilities, new model programmes and R&D signals a bright future and many new opportunities for companies in the supply chain,” said SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt.

John Leech, UK head of automotive at KPMG, said the sector could produce 2m cars by 2016.

“This will be driven by new vehicle production plans in place at Nissan, JLR and other UK car plants that should be resilient to continuing Eurozone weakness,” he said.

In spite of the bumper sales, companies that rely on European customers have struggled to remain profitable during the downturn.

Ford shocked workers in October when it announced the closure of its Transit van factory in Southampton and parts of its Dagenham plant, costing 1,400 UK jobs. Honda last week cut 800 roles at its factory in Swindon. Further afield, French firm Renault said it plans to shed 7,500 jobs.

Overall sales of commercial vehicles such as vans and lorries dropped 6.8 per cent to 112,039 in 2012, while exports fell 8.1 per cent, the SMMT said. Engine sales also fell 0.3 per cent last year.

Business secretary Vince Cable said yesterday there is “no room for complacency” in the coalition’s attempts to support UK car firms.

“The government is creating a highly supportive business environment to ensure that UK manufacturers continue to flourish as well as encouraging further investment in the UK automotive sector, including the supply chain,” he said.

The sector supports 135,000 direct jobs and accounts for 0.5 per cent of UK output, according to government estimates.

The country is also the second-biggest buyer of cars in Europe, behind Germany, as customers confounded forecasts in 2012 after the financial crisis laid sales low for several years.