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Range Rover Evoque drives British exports boom (2013)

By Ollie Kew and Phil McNamara

Motor Industry

24 January 2013 09:30

Range Rover’s smash-hit Evoque has driven UK car production to its highest level since 2008, and an all-time record export level. In 2012, UK car manufacturing was up 9% compared with 2011, with 1.46m cars produced. Almost 83% were exported.

The Evoque was 2012’s standout performer, having racked up an astonishing 108,598 sales last year. In August, Land Rover’s Halewood plant (which produces the Evoque and facelifted Freelander 2) switched to round-the-clock production, for the first time in its history. The move created an extra 1000 jobs, and helped drive total Land Rover production up by 28% year-on-year.

Who else was a winner last year?

According to figures CAR obtained from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Jaguar production climbed by 12% – though that only equates to another 5984 cars. Nissan’s phenomenal Sunderland plant churned out in excess of half-a-million cars, up 6.3%, while Mini production grew 8.4%.

On paper, Honda was the biggest climber with almost 70% growth. But these figures are tempered by 2011 being a shocking year for Honda due to the Japanese tsunami hitting the supply chain, and the Euro crisis and run-out years for the Civic and CR-V stifling production. 2013 has started badly for Honda too, with 800 jobs cut from the Swindon plant due to lax demand.

And the losers were…?

Only Toyota, which like Honda was hit by the tsunami and ageing models, witnessed a dip, as did Vauxhall at the Astra plant in Ellesmere Port. It illustrates the problem the mass-market faces, while sales of premium cars and SUVs are mushrooming.

Britain isn’t quite importing more vehicles than it exports though, although the SMMT predicts the import/export see-saw will tip our way in 2013. But by car list price – a far more important economic index – Britain’s car industry is already in the black. Professor Garel Rhys of Cardiff Business School says it takes three imported cars to equal the value of two of our premium exports. Land Rover is a strong case study: of the 305,467 cars LR assembled, just 54,235 stayed with UK customers.

Where are all these exported cars going?

China and the US mainly: their insatiable thirst for luxury (British) goods has pulled LR and Bentley from the insecure to the bouyant. Chinese car sales are tipped to rise from 6.2m in 2009 to over 20m by the end of the decade, and it’s super-cool British offerings (SUVs and saloons more so than Spyder supercars) that are hoovering up the money of China’s nouveau riche.

With mainstream car makers under pressure to close plants, Britain looks to be second only to Germany in Europe for mid-recession car construction. Banish those ancient Leyland nightmares: it seems we’re ‘the English Patient’ no longer – until David Cameron’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European single market, perhaps…