What impact has coronavirus had on the UK car industry?

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There was a 37.6 per cent slump in UK car production last month, the first set of figures showing the devastating initial impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the industry.

With many vehicle makers closing factories near the end of the month in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, just 78,767 vehicles were made during the month, 47,428 fewer than in March last year.

If car plants remain closed until mid-May, vehicle outputs in 2020 will fall by over a quarter of a million units and it will cost the industry £8.2billion, the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders warn.

Car factory closures at the end of March forced by the coronavirus outbreak saw UK vehicle production slump 38% last months, new figures revealed today say 

The coronavirus crisis has caused factories across the country to close, resulting in more than 140 days of lost production.

Output for the domestic market fell by 36 per cent, while exports were down by 38 per cent as the pandemic forced vehicle makers to down tools.

As well as UK car showrooms having to close their doors from the morning of 24 March, the SMMT said demand was particularly weak in major export destinations, including the US and EU where many key markets were shut for most of the month.

However, there were some encouraging signs, with shipments to China rising 2.3 per cent as lockdown measures began to ease, said the trade group.

Total car production rounded off the first quarter down by almost 14 per cent with 319,252 vehicles leaving factory gates compared with 370,289 in the same period in 2019.

With many factories  closing from the end of the month in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, just 78,767 vehicles left factory gates during March, 47,428 fewer than a year ago

With many factories  closing from the end of the month in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, just 78,767 vehicles left factory gates during March, 47,428 fewer than a year ago

Rolls-Royce Motors said it will be the first UK car maker to restart its operations, with staff returning the the assembly line at the Goodwood plant near Chichester on 4 May

Rolls-Royce Motors said it will be the first UK car maker to restart its operations, with staff returning the the assembly line at the Goodwood plant near Chichester on 4 May

Bosses said that 1,000 employees – half the total workforce – would be back on the production line from that date, though support staff, such as marketing and sales teams, will continue to work from home

Bosses said that 1,000 employees – half the total workforce – would be back on the production line from that date, though support staff, such as marketing and sales teams, will continue to work from home

The latest independent analysis suggests that the crisis could result in a loss of 257,000 units this year across all UK plants if factories stay closed to the middle of May, costing the sector over £8billion, said the SMMT.

The industry body said it was imperative for assembly lines to restart as soon as the lockdown is eased and appropriate measures are put in place so factory staff can remain safe. 

Government schemes, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), have provided a lifeline for many businesses, with almost two-thirds of the full-time automotive manufacturing workforce furloughed, safeguarding thousands of highly-skilled jobs, research by the SMMT found.  

UK car makers are drawing up detailed plans to ensure worker safety when they return from lockdown as the SMMT engages with the wider industry, government and other stakeholders to deliver best-practice guidance to help companies of all types and sizes to do the same.

It said the successful restart of the UK automotive sector will require a clear plan built on ‘four pillars’.

These include re-opening automotive retail and stimulating demand, ramping up safe and sustainable production, securing and supporting resilient supply chains, and ensuring a supportive regulatory framework is in place.

Nissan has yet to give a date for when operations at the UK's biggest producing car factory will commence, but says it is working on a plan

Nissan has yet to give a date for when operations at the UK’s biggest producing car factory will commence, but says it is working on a plan

The Japanese brand says it is running trials of safe operations with 50 production-line staff members

The Japanese brand says it is running trials of safe operations with 50 production-line staff members

Bentley said it is implementing a phased return to production at the company’s headquarters in Crewe, England, from 11 May

Bentley said it is implementing a phased return to production at the company’s headquarters in Crewe, England, from 11 May

Bosses at the UK car maker said there will be around 250 ‘comprehensive and wide-ranging’ hygiene and social distancing measures under an employee programme called ‘Come Back Stronger’ to ensure the safety of staff, including wearing PPE

Bosses at the UK car maker said there will be around 250 ‘comprehensive and wide-ranging’ hygiene and social distancing measures under an employee programme called ‘Come Back Stronger’ to ensure the safety of staff, including wearing PPE

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: ‘UK automotive is fundamentally strong but, as these figures show, it is being tested like never before, with each week of shutdown costing the sector and economy billions.

‘Government’s emergency measures are helping keep many companies afloat and thousands of people in jobs, but liquidity remains a major concern and will become even more stretched as the industry begins to restart.

‘To get production lines rolling, we need a package of measures that supports the entire industry.

‘This will include new workplace guidance, additional measures to ease cash-flow and help furloughed colleagues back to work, as well as demand-side measure to help encourage customers back into the market.

‘This should be seen as long-term investment into the underlying competitiveness of an industry critical to the health of the economy and the livelihoods of thousands of households right across the UK.’

With some key export markets, including China, Germany and the US, now starting or planning to re-open, manufacturers in the UK are making detailed preparations for employees to return safely to work over the coming weeks.

Jaguar Land Rover, the UK's biggest car producer, said it will gradually resume outputs from 18 May

Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s biggest car producer, said it will gradually resume outputs from 18 May

The Solihull plant will resume production of SUV models including the Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Velar and Jaguar I-Pace, while the engine plant in Wolverhampton will also restart

The Solihull plant will resume production of SUV models including the Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Velar and Jaguar I-Pace, while the engine plant in Wolverhampton will also restart

Aston Martin said it will have part of its workforce back at the new St Athan factory in Wales from 5 May

Aston Martin said it will have part of its workforce back at the new St Athan factory in Wales from 5 May

The state of the art production facility in Wales is the home of the new DBX - Aston Martin's first ever SUV

The state of the art production facility in Wales is the home of the new DBX – Aston Martin’s first ever SUV

What UK car makers have said about when they plan to return – and how

Rolls-Royce Motors said it will be the first UK car maker to restart its operations, with staff returning on 4 May.

Bosses said that 1,000 employees – half the total workforce – would be back on the production line from that date, though support staff, such as marketing and sales teams, will continue to work from home.

The firm’s factory at Goodwood near Chichester will operate one shift daily, rather than the usual two.

Staff will wear protective clothing and masks, and will observe social distancing rules in line with Health and Safety advice.

Aston Martin said it will reopen the St Athan plant on 5 May to resume outputs of the DBX crossover while rival luxury brand Bentley says it will introduce a set of around 250 ‘comprehensive and wide-ranging’ hygiene and social distancing measures under an employee programme called ‘Come Back Stronger’ in order to implement a phased return to production at the company’s headquarters in Crewe, England, from 11 May.

Jaguar Land Rover – the UK’s biggest car maker – has identified 18 May as the return date for a ‘gradual’ restart of its major assembly line in Solihull, West Midlands, and at its engine plant.

Nissan says it is running trials of safe operations with 50 production-line staff members at the Sunderland plant.

And Vauxhall has revealed it already has in place new social distancing measures for the return of production of the Astra at Ellesmere Port.

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