UK buyers shunning British-built cars


UK new car buyers are increasingly shunning British-built cars in favour of imported vehicles, according to production and registration data from the year to date.

Data provided by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that new car registrations are down 4% for the first eight months of the year, equating to about 70,000 cars.

However, production of British cars for British buyers has decreased by 19% over the same period, equating to more than 44,000 vehicles. This suggests that British-built cars are now making up about 12% of all sales, down from more than 14% at the same point last year.

In contrast, British-built cars for export are only down by about 1.5% for the year, equating to about 12,500 cars. More than 81% of UK-built cars in 2018 are exported to the rest of the world, up from 78% this time last year.

UK car production Jan to Aug 2018

Is the Vauxhall Astra a falling star?

The big loser in terms of sales volume appears to be the Vauxhall Astra, built at Ellesmere Port. This time last year, it had accounted for more than 36,000 new registrations and was the sixth most popular car in the country.

This year it has slid out of the top ten altogether and has dropped at least 14,000 units (the SMMT figures for models outside the top ten are not published), meaning it is responsible for a large chunk of the overall decrease on its own.

To make that picture even gloomier for Vauxhall, last year’s Astra sales were about 19% down on 2016 levels for the full year, so the Astra seems on course to see its UK sales almost halved in the space of two years.

Other British models that are contributing to the decrease

The 3 millionth Nissan Qashqai rolls down the production line in Sunderland
The 3 millionth Nissan Qashqai rolls down the production line in Sunderland

However, there are plenty of other British-built cars not racing out of showrooms across the country. The Sunderland-built Nissan Qashqai, which is the most popular British-built vehicle on sale, is down about 5,000 units for the first eight months of the year.

The current Nissan Juke is also in the last year of production ahead of a new model arriving next year, while the Infiniti Q30 and QX30 models, also built at Nissan’s enormous Sunderland factory, struggle to find buyers.

From Oxford, the Mini hatchback has also dropped a couple of thousand sales but still sits seventh in the best-selling model list.

Land Rover sales are down about 5,000 across the range, while Jaguar is down about 1,500 and has already announced that its Castle Bromwich factory – which builds the slow-selling XJ, XF, XE and F-Type models – is dropping back to a three-day week for the rest of the year. By contrast, the Jaguar SUV E-Pace and F-Pace models built in other UK factories continue to sell strongly. The new electric I-Pace model is imported from Austria.

In Burnaston, Derbyshire, Toyota has ended production of the Avensis model while the Auris is also winding down at the end of its life ahead of the all-new Corolla model being launched early next year.

Honda has ended UK production of the CR-V crossover at Swindon, with the new model being imported from Japan. That leaves the Civic as the only Honda model built in the UK.

The Car Expert has published a full list of all the cars built in the UK, although obviously there are significant imports and exports of components that complicate defining just how “British” a locally-built car really is.

However, if more car buyers chose British-built cars off our list instead of buying imported vehicles, there wouldn’t be any reason to worry about Brexit or the economy in general.

Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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  1. Subject : British Cars sales ;
    1, Vauxhall Cars . If you remember was sold to Peugeot who now own Vauxhall Cars. It used to be British owned , sadly no longer.
    2, Most of the cars produced in the U.K are companies from abroad.
    3, If they take over a U.K company what they do is take all the plans / technology , close it down then use that knowledge,
    put it in their latest cars.
    4, Why are these cars expensive is V.A.T is now at 20 percent and when it 8 percent in the early 70’s .

    • Hi Paul. Vauxhall hasn’t been “British owned” since 1925 when it was bought by GM. Basically, it’s no longer American-owned and is now French-owned. Almost all of Vauxhall’s R&D was actually done by Opel in Germany, so PSA Group hasn’t exactly been raiding Luton for top secret plans and technology.

      There are essentially no British-owned car companies anymore, and haven’t been for years. Some of the very small specialist companies are British-owned, but certainly none of the companies that build more than a few hundred cars a year.


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