UK new car output up 930% over 2020 but far below 2019 levels

UK new car production was up nearly 1000% last month year on year, but ongoing issues related to Covid-19 and supply continue to restrict output. 

Some 54,962 cars were built in May, according to new figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents a 934.3% increase over the 5314 produced last May, when car factories were only just beginning to open again after the first lockdown.

The trade body also notes that last month’s figures were down 52.6% compared with the 116,035 units produced in May 2019, before the pandemic, reflecting the continuing impact of Covid-19 and the global semiconductor shortage – which has forced several lines to halt production – on the automotive industry.

For the year to date, the UK has produced 429,826 new cars, up more than 100,000 units on this point last year, but down 22.9% compared with the first five months of 2019. The SMMT reports that May’s production rates were 58% below the five-year average. 

Some 19.2% of all cars produced were either battery electric or hybridised, and so far this year, a fifth of UK-built new cars have featured an alternatively fuelled drivetrain of some sort. Battery-electric vehicles account for 6.1% of the market, equivalent to one in 16 new cars.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “May’s figures continue to look inflated when compared to last year’s near total standstill of production lines. The recovery of car production is, however, still massively challenged here and abroad by global supply shortages, particularly semiconductors.

“If the UK is to remain competitive, therefore, it must ensure it has a globally attractive policy framework for both vehicle production and the supply chain. 

“Accelerating zero-emission car production is part of this package, so while one in five models made here this year is alternatively fuelled, we need to drive investment in R&D, charging infrastructure and the market to ensure we can deliver the net-zero future society demands.”