The popular new narrative for the UK auto industry is that its troubles are only temporarily to do with Brexit and much more to do with misguided policies, wrong decisions and economic swings. There’s a sharp decline in demand for luxury models from pinched Chinese consumers, while diesel sales have slumped because regulators continue to penalise them despite cleaner engines, leaving manufacturers regretting model-range investments. The EU’s new emissions testing regime has caused production problems across the continent; electric vehicle sales won’t take off until governments provide more charging points; and as interest rates begin to rise, motorists are losing the appetite for buying new cars on credit.
Set against all that, the potential for a few weeks’ disruption of supply parts as lorries queue at Dover after 29 March looks relatively minor, and can probably be fixed by stockpiling or (as at the Mini factory at Cowley) a routine maintenance break. Even the pain of new tariffs will recede if the pound falls significantly. So if the likes of Ralf Speth of Jaguar Land Rover were not ‘scaremongering’ when they pleaded for a Brexit that wouldn’t hurt their supply chains, they were at least using the issue as a partial smokescreen.
All this makes a coherent argument that adds useful perspective to current debate. But still I ask: will any foreign carmaker build a new factory in the UK in the next 20 years? I very much doubt it.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer’s ‘Any Other Business’ column