CEO Update

Competitiveness key to future prosperity

26 November 2021 #CEO Update

The strength and character of the UK’s automotive industry continues to be tested by the pandemic with the global shortage of semiconductors that are so crucial to the production of cars, commercial vehicles and engines, wreaking havoc with production and registrations. The latest automotive production figures released today by SMMT show output of cars falling by -41.4% and engines declining by -34.6%. With only CV production growing albeit against a weak October last year.

Despite these challenges, there was a positive on Tuesday night at SMMT’s 104th  Annual Dinner. After coronavirus restrictions prevented the occasion from taking place last year it was a relief to welcome members, stakeholders, media and policymakers in person once again.

The underlying message of the evening was that, for all the commitment, innovation and creativity of the industry and all who work in it, we need a framework where the sector can be competitive and meet the challenges whether they be environmental, technological or commercial. Whereas other nations have permanent mechanisms in place to back key industries during hard, cyclical times, the UK does not.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Support Scheme, which provided many businesses in the sector with a lifeline, has ceased but the effects of the pandemic have not. Government can help the industry, therefore, with measures to boost competitiveness in line with global rivals, notably in tackling high energy costs, supporting employment and training, and helping businesses whose cashflow is under pressure with production numbers so low.

This is crucial as the industry finds itself undergoing its must significant technological transformation since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Despite the industry  being united in decarbonising road transport, the pace of this transition will not be determined by us alone.

The sector has raced ahead – at substantial risk – with billions spent in investing in electric vehicles (EV) but other stakeholders need to step up their pace to ensure the necessary infrastructure, such as on-street charging, matches the pace of EV sales.

The government needs to create, even mandate, the conditions that will deliver this critical infrastructure across the whole nation. That is the levelling up we need from government if the electric revolution is to be affordable, achievable and accessible to all.

We were also delighted to welcome Alison Jones, Senior Vice President and Stellantis Country Manager UK to the role of SMMT President. Her vast experience within the sector will be invaluable in the development of SMMT’s corporate strategies and, given the operational role she retains at Stellantis, the insight she will bring will help us refine our activities to meet the market challenges.

As the first female SMMT President in 120 years, this is also a long overdue appointment but one which serves to underscore the work our industry must do to improve its diversity. We must do more to reflect the communities from which we recruit our talent and the broad nature of the customers we serve across the UK and beyond.

The entire SMMT team and I look forward to working with Alison as we continue to champion the UK’s automotive industry at home and abroad, I’d also like to thank the outgoing President Dr George Gillespie OBE for his outstanding contribution over the past three years, kindly extending his tenure to support the organisation through the pandemic.

I hope everyone able to attend this week’s dinner enjoyed the event and my  thanks go to everyone involved especially our sponsors Auto Trader, Conjure and Halfords Autocentres. We hope to be back bigger and better next year, as does the entire industry.

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