Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders 100th Annual Dinner Speech – Gareth Jones, SMMT President

29 November 2016 #Uncategorised

Gareth Jones, SMMT President

Ladies and gentleman, good evening and welcome to this special 100th SMMT dinner.

A lot can happen in 12 months…

  • A Conservative Prime Minister resigning, to be replaced by a cabinet colleague
  • An opposition at risk of splitting under a left-leaning leader
  • A government divided on trade policy
  • Concern over cheap steel imports

… and all that happened, all of it, in 1902, the year SMMT was founded.

Since then, 114 years have passed and, as of tonight, 100 dinners have been held.

So for more than a century, the SMMT has been the voice of the UK automotive industry. And, as you’ve just seen, we’ve been as busy as ever addressing challenges, seizing opportunities and promoting this great industry.

But THE issue is, of course, Europe.

An issue which has divided politics and divided a nation. However, it did not divide our industry.

We made our case, but the British people chose to vote out and that decision must be respected.

The challenge now is to make a success of the new future. We want to see new trading agreements established. We want a strong UK economy and we want to see the UK’s influence in the world enhanced.

But this cannot be at the expense of jobs, growth or our tradition of being an open, welcoming trading nation.

You’ve told us what you want: membership of the single market, consistency in regulations, access to global talent and global markets, and the ability to trade abroad free from barriers and red tape.

This won’t be easy. There will be competing priorities. But be assured, as the negotiating positions harden, SMMT will continue to make this case to Government. We have the strength of our successful sector behind us and will ensure your voice is heard.


A century ago just 10,000 ‘horseless carriages’ carried the wealthy across towns in Britain. Today, three quarters of UK households – that’s over 20 million – have a car. And just as in 1902, we stand on the brink of a paradigm shift in transport.

We are moving from petrol and diesel alone to new technologies – hybrids, electricity and hydrogen. The car is becoming connected and, potentially, autonomous.

Vehicles will change and technologies will continue to advance.

But change will occur not just in what we make, but in how we make them.

The so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will be a step-change in vehicle and component manufacturing across the globe.

The Internet of Things will embrace the manufacturing plant, generating data and enabling new human/machine interaction which will revolutionise the production line.

So tonight we launch SMMT’s Digitalisation of UK Automotive Manufacturing report, undertaken by KPMG.
The findings are compelling:

  • Increased production volumes by some 20% and a benefit to UK supply chains including technology and software companies of £2.6 billion a year.
  • The economic benefit to the UK economy is £8.6 billion per year.

Grasping this opportunity is not without challenge. As always, skills shortages have already been identified. There will be structural changes in the industry and we must protect the industry from intellectual property and cyber threats.

But the prize is enormous, and the UK must take steps now to ensure it remains competitive in the new manufacturing future.

And yet, through all this change, people will remain at the heart of what we do.

UK Automotive invests more than most in training. But more is needed. We face a huge challenge recruiting the right people with the right skills.

Think of some of the most famous names in automotive: Sir William Lyons, co-founder of the company we now know as Jaguar Land Rover; Frederick Simms – SMMT founder; Henry Royce and Henry Ford.

All were driven by a desire to experiment, a passion to challenge and a thirst for innovation.

But they have something else in common. They were all apprentices.

As I was. As a 15 year old I was not engaged in learning. My school agreed. They told me I would be leaving at the end of the year. I had no plans and my career options were limited – Barrowboy or printer if I struck lucky.

However, my school arranged for leavers to visit local companies. And it was on one of these visits that I first experienced a manufacturing environment and met some apprentices.

I was hooked. I understood then why education was important and how it could apply so directly to the real world of work.

I got it!

In that moment I knew what I wanted to do. I subsequently completed a five-year technician apprenticeship – and for me, it was a life changing experience.

We need to capture the imaginations, the hearts, the minds of our young people before they leave school. To show them and their teachers that the business on their doorstep could just be the opportunity of a lifetime.

So I am clear on this: becoming an apprentice is not a second class option. It never has been.

Apprentices are innovators. And quality apprenticeships are crucial to our industry’s future.


I’m honoured to be SMMT’s president but it’s time to hand over to someone new.

I’m delighted to announce that the 80th and next SMMT President is Mr Tony Walker, Deputy Managing Director, Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK, and Managing Director, Toyota Motor Europe, London.

Congratulations Tony. We all wish you much success.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have so much to celebrate – our industry is currently enjoying tremendous success: But do not take this success for granted.

This renaissance is due to years of hard work, hard won investment and a long-term, collaborative partnership between industry and government. It’s been supported through the Automotive Council and the sector’s industrial strategy – a strategy that is designed for our sector and is delivering for our sector.

This is critical. We operate in an intensely competitive environment. We need to create the right conditions for future competitiveness, for developing skills and securing the strength of our economy by investing in Research and Development, and enabling new technologies to be developed right here in the UK.

This partnership must continue. We must make the right decisions: on trade, on regulation and on business competitiveness.

This Government has, commendably, put Industrial Strategy at the heart of business and the Department of Business. It does so as it faces its toughest challenge – leaving the EU.

So, as it considers how to shape our future outside Europe and how to continue to grow the economy, our message is this:

The United Kingdom is recognised the world over for its automotive strength. Don’t screw it up!

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to say a sincere thank you to SMMT for organising this very special evening and also thank you to our sponsors – MSX and Automechanika Birmingham – as well as our many other partners across industry.

I’ve been enormously honoured to serve you as President of SMMT.

Have a wonderful evening and I wish you all a happy Christmas and a very successful 2017. Thank you.

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