Throughout the past year many sectors have taken a hard hit as a result of Covid-19, but few industries have faced as many pandemic-related challenges as the automotive sector. However, after taking a knock back, could the future be starting to look more positive for the industry as we begin to settle into the post-Brexit era?

New figures from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), show a 17.3% rise in car production in the first quarter of 20201 compared to the same period in 2020. Clearly, this is a falsely inflated increase in the context of the pandemic, as demonstrated by the stark fact that this increase is still 3.8% down on the levels seen in 2019. However, although the general picture remains challenging, there are signs for optimism for the months and years ahead.

One of the surest signs of a recovery is an upsurge in motor manufacturing and there have been positive moves in that direction in the UK in recent months in both the mainstream and luxury markets.

Nissan commits to Sunderland plant

Following Brexit, the future of Nissan’s Sunderland plant and their 7,000 employees was at stake with the Japanese giant making it clear during Brexit negotiations that a no-deal scenario would put its Sunderland plant at risk.

Thanks to the Brexit deal, tariff-free exports to Europe are allowed as long as all vehicles are manufactured using at least 55% of components from the UK or EU. While this caveat presents a separate set of challenges for the automotive sector, it means (to the relief of the government and the company’s UK employees), that Nissan has decided to commit to its Sunderland plant. Indeed, the company has actually increased activity by moving production of some of their more powerful batteries to Sunderland in order to comply with the new export rules.

Ford produces diesel engines in Dagenham

Just like Nissan, Ford are working hard to meet the UK government’s target of abolishing petrol and diesel cars by 2030. To try and reach this, anyone buying a new Custom Transit Van will have the option to have it as either completely electric or as a plug-in hybrid. In a positive move for UK motor manufacturing, Ford have also made the decision to produce their diesel engines in Dagenham which will help to safeguard the 2,000 workers employed at the plant.

Lotus production increases

Forever synonymous with the glamorous golden age of British motoring, sports car manufacturer Lotus is still based in Norfolk, despite now being owned by Chinese multinational Geely.

Unsurprisingly, 2020 was not a good year for the high-end sports car market and Lotus lost £14m against revenues of £96m after only selling 1400 cars. However, the company has come up with a bullish bounce back plan which involves increasing production tenfold at a cost of £2.5 billion as part of their plan to become a fully electric company.

July 2021 will see the unveiling of the Lotus Emira, the company’s final combustion engine car. After that, efforts will be concentrated on the company’s first ever electric vehicle and a foray into new markets with the company’s first SUV, which will also be fully electric. Although the SUV will be produced at a new plant in China, the company’s ambitious plans will result in 275 new jobs being created at the Norfolk base.

Innovation in manufacturing

The resilience and adaptability being demonstrated by Lotus and other manufacturers is a great metaphor for the UK motor industry in general, which has always shown a great ability to adapt and bounce back in times of wider economic difficulties.

Resilience is key when dealing with the many curveballs that are regularly thrown at us. Although Covid-19 is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that the industry has ever faced, there is cause for optimism that not just survival, but a bright future is an achievable goal for UK motor manufacturing.

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