From the impact of Brexit to the rise of electric cars, a special roundtable considers the future of car manufacturing—and ownership—in Britainby Prospect Team / May 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
As a child, Mark Pawsey would play a game to while away time sitting in the back of the family car. He’d spot other cars, identifying their origin. Many were built in Coventry or Birmingham. Few were from outside the UK. Today, the scene from the car window is much changed—as the MP for Rugby would acknowledge—and it tells the story of an industry transformed.
From a record high production of 1.9m units in 1972, output hovered around the one million mark at the end of the last decade. By 2017 the figure was up to 1.6m, many cars and engines originating from Germany, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere; still UK-built in some cases but not UK owned. And alongside the internal combustion engine-based vehicles to be spotted from the back seat, there are hybrids from the likes of Nissan and Toyota, the odd electric vehicle from Tesla, car club and ride-hailing vehicles, and—in the not too distant future—autonomous cars, too.
“Today, there’s almost no such thing as a British car or a German car given there are so many common components,” Pawsey told a recent roundtable convened by Prospect in association with Tata Steel Europe. “I saw the decline of the industry in the 1980s and 90s, and I’ve been really pleased to see the sector come back up.”
Beyond the scene from the back-seat window, Britain’s automotive industry is navigating a set of complex challenges. Demand from China has fallen by over a fifth, while Brexit exposes the UK’s relationship with its biggest export market and large parts of its supply chain. Separately, diesel sales collapsed by over 30 per cent in 2018 alongside a push for greener, less polluting solutions.
Electric vehicles and their future
“We are going through an incredible transformation,” said Peter Stephens, Head of UK External & Government Affairs, Nissan Motor (GB). “We are trying to do inside 20 years what has taken us 100 years to get to this point.”
Stephens argued that while the move to electric vehicles (EVs) must be supported—not least because it democratises the fight against climate change by putting decision making in the hands of the individual—he cautioned against a move to EVs at all costs. “If we can’t make the competitive case, we risk not…