CEO Update

Zero-emission mobility becoming reality

28 April 2022 #CEO Update

The incredible diversity and ingenuity of the automotive sector was out in full force on Tuesday at SMMT’s 42nd annual Test Day. This is an event that, by definition, cannot work virtually and, with the sun shining on 270 journalists joining us, it was a great opportunity for discussions with manufacturers and a chance to get behind the wheel of hundreds of the latest and greenest vehicles.

More than 30 manufacturers brought along some 178 vehicles to be put through their paces on Millbrook’s test tracks, including, for the first time, heavy trucks – half of them zero emission – which, unsurprisingly, proved a major draw. It was fantastic to give media who are generally more familiar with cars, the experience of driving the larger working vehicles that are so vital to the UK economy and its green transition.

Green was definitely the theme at this year’s event, with more than 40 of the car models either a plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicle. Compare that with the five on display at the same event just 10 years ago and you can see how industry’s investment is delivering serious choice for the consumer. Over that decade, average battery range has trebled, from 74 miles to almost 260, making EVs a more realistic option for car buyers than ever before.

Whilst this solves the issue of range anxiety, it does not address charging anxiety. Electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes have become more visible on our roads but chargepoint rollout has failed to keep up. Further investment in infrastructure is essential so that all drivers in all regions of the UK can be confident they will be able to charge whenever and wherever they want.

In other news this week, commercial vehicle production figures for March gave cause for optimism, with a 64.3% year-on-year uplift in output driven by an almost doubling of export demand, reflecting additional capacity and strong global appetite for British made CVs. Car manufacturing volumes, however, did not fare so well, down more than a third in the month with almost 100,000 units lost so far this year. Despite the sector’s best efforts – and, indeed, robust demand – two years after the pandemic, recovery is not yet in our sights.

Ongoing global supply shortages (most obviously with semiconductors), trade challenges, inflation, escalating energy costs are all adding pressure. That’s why we’re calling for urgent action by government to safeguard our competitiveness, starting with relief for automotive manufacturers on energy costs equivalent to that afforded energy intensive industries and access to low cost and low carbon energy, comparable to European competitors.

Our industry is resilient and, with the right conditions, a critical driver of high-value jobs and economic prosperity. Thanks to automotive investment, zero emission mobility is becoming a reality – but to ensure that the vehicles to deliver this transition are ‘Made in Britain’ will need a redoubling of efforts from all quarters.

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