Whither the UK motor industry? SMMT car registration data shows that for January to June 2020, new car registrations were half the corresponding figure for the first half of 2019, and if June 2020 improved to 65% of the 2019 level, this is certainly the very best hope for the final outcome of 2020 which even so may well be the worst year since 1954.
Given the inexorable rise in home deliveries, the van sector provides the only positive news here; HGV registrations are likely be 30% down on 2019, but the outlook for bus and coach builders is grim: with many provincial services running largely empty since March, covid oblige, and surviving only on government subsidy, severe pruning appears inevitable in 2021.
The next milestone will be November and the end of furlough, which may be complicated by further localised lockdowns if as some predict, there is a winter resurgence of the virus. But looming over the country and concentrating minds in the motor industry will be Brexit. And still manufacturers have no idea what to expect. The vacillations of the government’s covid policy, the recent muddle over Spanish travel simply the latest in the series, bring home to a wider public perhaps the uncertainty through which the UK motor industry has be forced to live since 2016. Thomas Hemmerich, UK manager of heavy truck maker MAN sums up the industry’s views when he says that the imposition of tariffs from January would be “a disaster” for an economy already weakened by covid.
Perhaps there is a possible silver lining to the virus: one financial commentator now suggests that despite its protestations to the contrary, the virulence of covid 19 and severe loss of employment it is likely to cause will act as a kind of force majeure enabling the government to shelve import tariffs and the far more complex matter of harmonisation of standards indefinitely, yet still make its populist claim that country is no longer “ruled by Brussels.” Yet another “sentence postponed” for the motor industry?
Nearer to home perhaps, a minor casualty of the retail lockdown is publishing. While the Haymarkets and Bauers will survive albeit with cuts – Kelsey has already closed some enthusiast titles, some smaller publishers have been pushed so far into debt that significant numbers of specialist magazines seem unlikely to reappear.