Car Manufacturing

Letter From The UK: Another Fine Mess

  • Has the uncertainty surrounding Brexit pushed the UK to the edge of the cliff? 
  • Is economic robustness being compromised for the sake of political expediency? 
  • Geoff Maxted of DriveWrite Automotive Magazine examines in this latest Letter.

Bentley, one of Great Britain’s legendary luxury car makers, will be revealing their first fully-electric concept vehicle this week. Couple this with the news that a Chinese company are talking up a new lithium-ion battery that could recharge a sports car to 80 percent in just over four minutes, and you would be forgiven thinking all was well on the EV and hybrid front.

Not so; at least not in the UK.

The Cliff Edge

This is a popular term for those who think British people will fling themselves to oblivion like lemmings if this country leaves the European Union (Yes folks, it’s Brexit time again) without a ‘deal.’ Of course, this is arrant nonsense; it’s a trading pact for pity’s sake. Well, as of 25 July, GB is going to have a new Prime Minister who is likely to be considerably more bullish than his failed predecessor. Thus, we still have no clue if the UK will leave the Union on 31 October, which is the latest deadline. In other words, the situation is no clearer. And if it isn’t all a big mess now, it’ll certainly do until the real mess gets here.

Maybe Not So Bad

In the meantime, there has been some changing of hearts. An old dinosaur of a politician who has been vehemently against leaving the EU has now suggested ‘that it might not be so bad.’ Further, a Jaguar planning manager has stated that we could have home advantage over rivals if tariffs on cars built outside the UK are introduced in a hard Brexit. He said, “If there is a tariff situation, we will be ahead with our British-built cars such as the XE saloon making them cheaper than rivals – and securing British manufacturing.”

Maybe not so clear cut after all.

The Jaguar Land Rover group have also confirmed the company is investing hundreds of millions of pounds to build a range of electric vehicles at its Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham, England. Initially the plant will produce an electric version of their flagship model, the XJ. Would they invest if they thought Brexit would be so economically bad, which has been the company’s stance until now?

So, cliff edge or not. It’s unclear, frankly.

Castle Bromwich Manufacturing 1 1
UK-focused electric vehicle production is the next step in Jaguar Land Rover’s electrification strategy. The company says the forthcoming investments at their Castle Bromwich facility will safeguard thousands of jobs. Photo: Jaguar Land Rover.

Electric Doldrums

What’s not so unclear is the fact that UK new car registrations declined for a fourth consecutive month in June, with year-on-year demand falling by almost five percent. Added to this ongoing confusion over low emission zones and diesel, the removal of key ultra-low emission vehicle incentives and an overall decline in buyer confidence, especially as it relates to hybrid vehicles, which previously have been subject to government-sponsored buyer incentives.

Sales of diesel-powered vehicles have continued to plummet and also, significantly, plug-in hybrids which contributed to the recent downward trend, falling by a massive 50 percent. Self-charging hybrids also fell although by a considerably smaller margin. Battery electric vehicle (EV) sales were one of the few bright spots in an otherwise sluggish UK car market.

This poor hybrid performance tipped the overall alternatively-fueled vehicle sector into negative growth for the first time since April 2017, thus undermining efforts to reduce vehicle emissions. What we are left with is a very confused picture, and it is likely all down to the perceived effects of a ‘cliff edge’ style exit from the European Union.

None of this makes any sense to this writer. Why in all that’s holy would anyone jeopardise economic robustness for political expediency? People’s working lives are at stake here and nobody seems to have a clue what to do.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

Letter from the UK