British new car production bounced back to something approaching pre-pandemic levels in April, new figures have revealed. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed the UK new car output for last month was down by just under four percent compared with the same month in 2019.

On the face of it, the SMMT’s monthly figures look hugely encouraging for the sector. More than 68,000 cars were built on these shores in April, up from just 197 during the same month last year, when production was effectively halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result of that 34,573-percent uplift, almost 375,000 new cars were built in the UK during the first four months of 2021. That’s a 17.3-percent increase compared with the same point in 2020, although such comparisons are perhaps not entirely fair, given the impact of Covid-19.

Honda Civic production Swindon UK

With 2020’s figures giving us a slightly misleading picture of the situation, comparisons with 2019 figures are probably more representative. By that measure, last month’s new car output was down 3.8 percent, while output for the first four months of the year was down by 15 percent.

Considering the immense pressure the coronavirus pandemic has placed on lives, the economy and the car industry, those results might spark some optimism among casual observers. But the SMMT says the new car manufacturing sector “remains short of recovery”, with average outputs for the previous five years painting a dramatically altered picture.

Last month’s new car production was down by 42.9 percent when compared with the average outputs over the five-year period from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2019. And production for the first four months of 2021 was down 31.1 percent compared with the average for the same five years.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said the industry still harboured challenges for car makers, with output affected by a global semiconductor shortage.

“April’s figures were always going to be exceptional as factories were closed at this time last year amid the first wave of the pandemic,” he said. “However, the situation for UK car manufacturers remains challenging, particularly with the worldwide shortage of semiconductors affecting output. While it’s good news that the UK is on track with its Covid roadmap back to normality, we still need strong domestic demand. And given we’re export-led, [we need] confident overseas markets to drive a recovery, both for the automotive sector and for the wider economy.”