Coronavirus: the British car industry shuts down

Published: 25 March 2020

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The car industry is reeling from the effects of the coronavirus and most major manufacturers are stopping production at plants across Europe, as national governments struggle to contain the spread of the Covid-19 disease.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) was the final car making group to close its UK factories, amidst the growing coronavirus crisis. Operations around Birmingham and Halewood have ceased until at least 20 April, the company said.

It follows Bentley's announcement on Friday that it was stopping all production at its Crewe plant until at least 20 April. Adrian Hallmark, Bentley Motors chairman and CEO, said: 'This will inevitably have an impact on our deliveries to customers, and we apologise for the inconvenience this causes, however we are working hard to minimise this disruption. Our thoughts continue to go out to all those affected around the world throughout this very sad and difficult time for so many people.’

Car makers scramble to make ventilators

Honda Swindon factory coronavirus shutdown

Honda shut its Swindon factory (above) after the last shift on 18 March, citing difficulties in the supply chain and with staff welfare. It hopes to reopen the plant, which makes the Civic hatchback, on 6 April but admits it will await further guidance from government and medical experts.

Which factories have closed? 

Experts are now fearing for the long-term future of the automotive sector. The following UK car factories have closed:

  • Bentley (Crewe)
  • BMW (Hams Hall)
  • Jaguar Land Rover (Birmingham, Halewood)
  • Mini (Oxford)
  • Nissan (Sunderland)
  • Rolls-Royce (Goodwood)
  • Toyota (Burnaston)
  • Vauxhall (Ellesmere Port and Luton)

Elsewhere in the world, most major car groups have ceased production, with Volkswagen, Seat, Renault, Dacia, Skoda, Peugeot Citroen, Volvo, Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles all pausing many factories around the globe.

'Given the present significant deterioration in the sales situation and the heightened uncertainty regarding parts supplies to our plants, production is to be suspended in the near future at factories operated by group brands,' said VW Group chief executive Herbert Diess on Tuesday.

Fears the UK car making sector may be critically injured

Prof Karel Williams at Manchester Business School told The Guardian that British car manufacturing could be fatally impacted by the shutdowns. 'It’s clear from what Volkswagen has been saying that lost sales will not be found again and there will be a massive hit in terms of loss-making in the major carmakers,' he said. 'The markets will recover but the companies will be weakened just when they’re requiring large-scale investments in electrification. That will force them to rethink their portfolios of factories, models and markets.

Unsold cars stockpiling (Getty)

'The review of factories, models and markets is not going to be good for the British car industry. The last thing the industry needs is a major disruption to both demand and supply. The more marginal the operations, the model and the market, the more likely things are to be cut.'

Initially, most brands are committing to closing production lines for a couple of weeks, although BMW is shuttering its facilities until 19 April, but the long-term outlook is far from certain as most European countries impose strict limits on the movement of people.

In the UK, Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port and Luton factories will both close until at least 27 March. Volvo and Ford have also shuttered some European production lines.

Making ventilators

Buyers are staying away from dealers - in China and the UK

In a separate development, the British government is talking to manufacturers such as Ford and Jaguar Land Rover to see if they can help manufacture ventilators as the National Health Service ramps up preparations for mass sickness among the wider population.

More on car factories making ventilators

Meanwhile, events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Members' Meeting, the Isle of Man TT bike race and the Bicester Scramble in Oxfordshire have all been pulled. 

Coronavirus and the Chinese car market: demand collapsed 92% in February

The effect of the Covid-19 Coronavirus has been causing havoc for the Chinese new-car market for months, with registrations equalling just 8 percent compared to the same period in 2019. According to figures published by Reuters from China Passenger Car Association (CPCA), just 4909 units were shifted in the first 16 days of February when 59,930 cars were sold in the same timeframe last year.

That equates to sales plummeting a staggering 92 percent, with the CPCA stating that dealerships remain bereft of foot traffic with customers staying behind closed doors. 'Very few dealerships opened in the first weeks of February, and they have had very little customer traffic,' the CPCA said.

To help alleviate the downturn in a market that sold 25 million vehicles in 2019, car makers are turning to the internet to generate an upturn and get customers buying cars again.

Reuters reports that Chinese manufacturer Geely has opened up a system where customers can order and buy cars through its website and have the car delivered to their driveway.

What’s more, according to Geely, potential customers can spec their cars via an online configurator, while test drives can be arranged through a local dealer, with the route starting from home addresses.

Other manufacturers are moving to this stay-at-home process as Chinese authorities increase warnings to stay away from public places.

The impact of the Coronavirus is already showing globally, with both the Geneva and New York motor shows cancelled.

By CAR's road test team

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