At Interflex, we aways try to focus on the positives of working in manufacturing, but there have been times over the last few years when good news has been scarce on the ground. However, we end 2023 on a positive note, having weathered some tough challenges, with much to look forward to in 2024.

So let’s look back on some on the highs and lows of the last 12 months….

The ups and downs of car production

The start of 2023 brought disappointing statistics around vehicle manufacturing, with figures showing that car production in the UK during 2022 had plummeted to just 775,000 units leaving British factories – even less than during Covid-stricken 2021. This was due in part to issues around the semiconductor shortage and other supply chain problems related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fast forward almost 12 months, and the picture looks much brighter, with consecutive monthly rises in car production throughout 2023. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that car manufacturing output in the UK rose by 31.6% in October, with over 91,000 new cars leaving the production line. The SMMT has also just released encouraging news around the UK new car market, which grew by 9.5% in November. Comparisons with 2022 as a whole are similarly positive, with the year-to-date figures showing an overall market growth of 18.6%. Here at Interflex, we feel that this is a solid foundation on which to build as we move into 2024.

Supplying sustainable materials for a range of applications in 2024

Sustainability has been a key driver in manufacturing in 2023 and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. As an innovative industry, the automotive sector has met these challenges head on, focusing on developing clean technology and smart factories, alongside investment into the manufacture of electric vehicles and the development of lightweight materials to ensure greater fuel efficiency. However, the government has been sending mixed messages to the sector at times, most notably, by retreating from their commitment to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, moving the date backwards to 2035.

Government support for green manufacturing

Fortunately there are also signs that the government acknowledge and support the changes that the automotive sector is making, committing £1.6 billion in schemes and grants to increase charging points. The government also launched the UK’s first electric vehicle battery strategy this autumn, setting out how it intends to ensure a healthy and competitive battery supply chain in the UK, which will be a critical part of any success in transitioning to zero emissions. This sits alongside the advanced manufacturing plan, which includes £2 billion in funding for the automotive sector, supporting the manufacturing and development of zero emission vehicles, their batteries and supply chain for five years to 2030.

This strategic investment appears to be paying off, as UK production of battery electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles has risen throughout 2023. In fact, the combined output of all these vehicles accounted for 40% of all new cars made during October. Admittedly, if net zero targets are to be met, these figures will need to continue to rise significantly over a relatively short period of time, but they do represent close to an all-time high in EV production.

The SMMT commitment to net zero

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), underlined the importance of placing sustainability at the top of the manufacturing agenda, saying: “Decarbonising road transport is essential if net zero is to be achieved, and that transition must be ‘built in Britain’. The Government’s advanced manufacturing plan sets out measures to support the UK automotive supply chain as it undergoes the most significant transition in its history.

“The plan, together with a new battery strategy to support the development and production of this critical technology, is essential if the UK is to compete in the face of fierce global competition.”

More good news came this year in the form of the announcement by Nissan that they are planning to open an additional gigafactory at their Sunderland plant, creating an exciting hub for EV production, as well as securing jobs and prosperity for the local economy.  As supply chain issues have been a significant stumbling block within automotive manufacturing, the expansion of a site on British shores is much welcomed by manufacturers in the UK – and a great boost for the industry.

Awaiting a decision on the Rules of Origin

The new UK-EU Rules of Origin is an issue that has been hanging over UK car production throughout 2023. The sector is lobbying hard to delay tougher Rules of Origin that are due to come into force on 1 January 2024. This would incur tariffs that would increase car prices for users at a crucial time in the transition to EVs. The European Commission has proposed a three-year extension to the current Rules of Origin for batteries under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. If successful, this would be good news for both the UK and the EU – as well as for consumers. At the time of writing, no final decision has been made, but there seem to be reason for optimism.

Increasing demand for sustainable materials

As specialists in lightweight material conversion and development across a range of industries in addition to automotive, at Interflex we welcomed the results of a recent study published by Research and Markets predicting that the global automotive lightweight materials market is likely to grow by US$42 billion over the next 5 years. Offering a high performance insulation material like Ocean opens up a range of markets where sustainable materials are in high demand. From reducing NVH in railway carriages, to providing sound and thermal insulation between the inner and outer wall of caravans, to creating an enhanced thermal barrier within the interior walls and engine bays within marine vehicles, Ocean is a versatile, lightweight solution suitable for many applications where sustainability is a key factor.

Wishing you a successful New Year

As 2024 approaches, we look forward to continuing to provide superior, lightweight, sustainable solutions to customers new and old. Call us on 01494 861 494 or email us at sales@interflex2000.com to find out how we can help you in 2024.

We wish you all a prosperous and happy New Year.