Britain’s car makers fear the wheels are coming off

Wednesday 27th November 2019 05:00 EST

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is due to release numbers this week on car, commercial vehicle and engine manufacturing – figures that so far this year have been showing a reverse trend. At its last outing, the SMMT said that UK car production had fallen by a “bitterly disappointing” 3.8% during September, adding to a turbulent year-to-date in which political and economic turmoil, softness in key markets and operational changes have been blamed for a 15.6% slump.

Unsurprisingly, the SMMT’s chief, Mike Hawes, warned that the industry was most worried about “the continued threat of a no-deal Brexit”, which is said to have caused “international investment to stall” and cost hundreds of millions of pounds, “money that would have better been spent in meeting the technological challenges facing the global industry.” Hawes’s comments dovetail with a different announcement from earlier this month, when Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, said that the electric carmaker would be building its first major European factory on the outskirts of Berlin. “Brexit made it too risky to put a Gigafactory in the UK,” the entrepreneur said. “[Boris] Johnson’s super-hard Brexit plan would see new trade barriers with our European partners,” wrote Lib Dem deputy leader Ed Davey. “This will drive down already stagnant business investment … We must take seriously Musk’s announcement.”

If he could be persuaded to comment on Tesla, Johnson would surely say the uncertainty will disappear as soon as we Get Brexit Done. But Musk’s decision still seems like a missed opportunity, as he’s previously expressed an admiration for UK manufacturing. “We have a lot of respect for the British automotive engineering talent,” the billionaire said in 2016. “Just look at Formula One – it amazes me how much British talent there is in that. We are likely to establish a Tesla engineering group in Britain at some point in the future.” That remains a startling comment, as Musk rarely admits that anyone else might know better. Unlike the makers of Aquafresh.

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