UK car manufacturing suffered as the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, with output down by almost 40 percent. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents the UK’s car makers and dealers, show the Covid-19 pandemic decimated the number of vehicles built.

In March, the SMMT data shows 78,767 cars were built in UK factories, which is a 37.6 percent reduction compared with the 126,195 cars produced on these shores in the same month of 2019. The news follows figures released last month that showed UK new car registrations almost halved in March, as the coronavirus pandemic saw showrooms close their doors.

Both the domestic and export markets were hit, with similar decreases in the number of vehicles heading abroad and to buyers in the UK. Just under 17,000 cars were built for UK customers, down 36.8 percent on last March’s total, while exports fell 37.8 percent to around 61,800.

Nissan Juke production at Sunderland UK plant

As a result, the manufacturing figures for the first quarter of 2020 make fairly bleak reading. At the end of March, overall production was down 13.8 percent on the levels seen at the same point last year, with exports down 12.6 percent and the number of cars built for the UK market down 18.2 percent.

Assuming factories stay closed until the middle of this month, the SMMT says independent analysis suggests the Covid-19 crisis could cut total UK car production by more than a quarter of a million units this year. This, the SMMT says, could cost the industry £8.2 billion, which is the equivalent to around a fifth of UK car makers’ combined annual turnover. If the lockdown goes on beyond the middle of May, the costs could rise further still.

Honda Civic production Swindon UK

“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,” said the SMMT’s chief executive Mike Hawes. “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. We need coordination and collaboration with the government, the workforce and wider stakeholders to unlock the sector in a safe and sustainable way. This will include new workplace guidance, additional measures to ease cash-flow and help furloughed colleagues back to work, as well as demand-side measures 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.”