The UK’s vote to leave the European Union has sent shockwaves through the motor industry, both inside and outside of the country.
Motor industry executives are now calling for tariff-free business to be maintained following the exit, which the British people voted for by 52 to 48 per cent in a referendum on EU membership held on 23rd June.
Effects to be felt both in UK and Europe
The effect of the decision is expected to be felt keenly on both sides of the English Channel. Car manufacturing in the UK has undergone significant growth in recent years, with close to 60 per cent of the product being exported to the EU, but all of the significant plants in Britain build cars for brands with non-UK owners.
Equally, Europe’s auto manufacturers do a great deal of business within Britain, with for example around one fifth of the product of Germany’s Volkswagen Group sold to UK buyers. According to one source around half of the UK’s 2.6 million annual car sales come from German-owned manufacturers.
Automotive manufacturers consider it essential that on exit from the European Union the UK maintains membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which is open to both EU nations and four non members, Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Liechtenstein, who between them form the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Membership of the EEA allows free movement of goods throughout Europe and would avoid the great fear of auto manufacturers of tariffs being applied to exports, both from the UK to Europe and the other way by the UK on imports into the country.
Manufacturers with plants in the UK are refusing to comment specifically on the future until the nature of trade agreements that can be negotiated between the UK and the rest of Europe become clearer. However industry media organisation Automotive News Europe is quoting one unnamed Asian-based manufacturer as stating that investment decisions in the UK will have to be more cautious, including deciding whether to build a new or significantly redesigned model in the country.
SMMT calls on Government to maintain economic stability
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, is acknowledging that the British public has chosen a new future out of Europe. “Government must now maintain economic stability and secure a deal with the EU which safeguards UK automotive interests,” he says.
“This includes securing tariff-free access to European and other global markets, ensuring we can recruit talent from the EU and the rest of the world and making the UK the most competitive place in Europe for automotive investment,” Hawes adds.
Already it is being reported by Reuters that PSA Group, parent company of the Peugeot, Citroën and DS Automobiles brands, is considering price rises for its models on sale at UK dealers, the Group saying it needs to protect the profitability of its UK operation.
Meanwhile the drop in the value of the pound, triggered by the Brexit vote, is likely to lead to rising fuel prices, according to the Petrol Retailers Association. As fuel prices are quoted in dollars, Association chairman Brian Madderson is predicting a rise of 2-3p a litre on forecourts, possibly within a week.