UK commercial vehicle production falls to lowest level since 1933

Production of UK commercial vehicles (CVs) fell to its lowest level since 1993 as only 66,116 trucks, vans, buses, coaches and taxis rolled off the production line in 2020, with the decline largely down to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CV production fell 15.5% year-on-year, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). December output was down 9.2%, rounding off a weak quarter and awful year for the CV sector which turned out 12,154 fewer units than in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic, with social distancing measures and multiple lockdowns throughout the year badly affected manufacturing capabilities and demand, while uncertainty right up until the end of the Brexit transition period also dented business confidence.

These issues meant production for both the overseas and domestic markets declined, down 17.8% (at 37,893) and 12.2% (28,223) respectively. Nevertheless, almost six out of every 10 commercial vehicles built in the UK in 2020 were exported, with the key market, the EU, placing the majority of orders for British-built CVs (94.9% export share). While the EU was by far the sector’s biggest overseas customer, 670 units were exported to Israel, 288 to Taiwan, and 248 to Russia, as well as exports going to more than 50 other countries.

It meant the UK had its worst year for commercial vehicle production since 1933, when just 65,508 vehicles were produced, according to the SMMT.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “2020 challenged commercial vehicle manufacturers beyond belief and, as the final figures show, reflect what has been the worst year in a lifetime for the sector. The pandemic hit markets across Europe while prolonged uncertainty threatened business confidence at home, as a potential ‘no deal’ Brexit loomed over the industry for much of the year and was only put to rest on Christmas Eve.”

But there is hope for the future, Hawes added, with the COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out and clarity emerging about what cross-channel trading requirements are now needed thanks to the Brexit deal.

“2021 must be focused on recovery and growth for commercial vehicle manufacturing. This starts with providing the right conditions to both attract investment and accelerate the take up of alternatively fuelled vehicles – a crucial next step on the way to a rapid and successful sector transition in the UK.”

Dan Parton
Dan Parton
Dan Parton is a former editor of Truck & Driver, the UK’s biggest selling truck magazine. He is now writes for The Van Expert and The Truck Expert.

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