SMMT Reports

2023 UK Automotive Sustainability Report


2022 was a year of two halves for the UK automotive industry in terms of vehicle production and sales. By December 2022, the UK new car market had recorded its fifth consecutive month of growth. However, an improved second half year performance was not enough to offset the declines recorded during the first half of the year. Despite underlying demand, global parts shortages related to the pandemic and war in Ukraine saw overall car and van production fall -6.0% compared to 2021, with registrations of new vehicles down -5.3%.

However, as the UK automotive sector gradually recovers in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that sustainability commitments remain at the heart of manufacturer strategies for growth. In 2022, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) accounted for 16.6% of all new car registrations, surpassing diesel for the first time to become the second most popular powertrain after petrol. More broadly, plug-in vehicles (both BEVs and PHEVs) accounted for 22.9% of new registrations in 2022 – a record high. With hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also increasing in number, average CO2 tailpipe emissions fell -6.9% to 111.4g/km.

Despite a reduction in the overall number of vehicles produced in 2022, the increased proportion of BEVs coincided with a 2.4% increase in both overall energy use and energy per vehicle, reflecting an increase in the energy intensity of the vehicle production process. However, 46GWh of renewable electricity was generated on automotive manufacturing sites in 2022, up 4.7% on the previous year, while the use of green electricity tariffs also rose 7.2%. This, combined with increased energy efficiency measures, meant that the amount of CO2 per vehicle fell by -2.8% in 2022, despite the overall increase in energy use. In the same period, overall industry CO2 fell by -2.7%, saving a further 17,685 tonnes CO2 per year, and down -71% since our first report in 1999.

Continued efforts to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions from vehicle manufacturing processes provided a mixed picture in 2022, with emissions for vans falling by -13.2% but emissions for cars increasing by 10.1%. Long-term progress for both car and van VOC reduction remains significant (-53% and -47% since 1999, respectively), and the increase in car VOC in 2022 may be partially explained by improvements to monitoring methodologies and changes to vehicle production at some manufacturing sites.

Sustainability Report 2023

There was a marked 11.1% rise in overall water use in 2022, reflected in an 11.3% rise in water used per vehicle. This may be attributed to the less efficient stop-start nature of production lines at a time when manufacturers continued to experience supply chain interruptions, and the knock-on impact on water-based and, in particular, steam-based processes. While the increase in water use in 2022 represents a retrograde step, it comes in the context of a longer-term trend of a -26% reduction in industry water use since 1999.

Industry waste to landfill has fallen by -98% since 1999, with zero waste to landfill the ultimate aim for the automotive industry. In this context, combined waste to landfill continued its decline in 2022, falling -35.3% compared to the previous year, while the total volume of material reused and recycled rose 19.6%. For vehicle manufacturers, waste to landfill per vehicle fell -39.6% in this period.

The automotive industry continues to recognise the criticality of a skilled, diverse workforce in delivering the technologies and innovations that will underpin the UK’s net zero future. The total number of UK jobs dependent on the automotive sector rose by 4% in 2022 to 800,500. Many of these are manufacturing jobs outside London and the South East, with wages that are around 14% higher than the UK average.

In 2022, 77,436 people were employed by signatories to this report, a rise of 4.4% on the previous year. In the same period, the proportion of women employed by signatories rose by 0.9 percentage points to 13.4% of the total workforce. Following a Covid-affected 2021, there was also a rise in the number of apprentices and trainees taken on within the industry, rebounding 45.3% compared to the previous year.

A combined 144,176 training days were provided to automotive employees in 2022. Some of this training is related to changes to roles as a result of supply chain disruption and the knock-on interruptions to normal processes and work patterns. This may also explain the 12.3% increase in reported lost time incidents per 1000 employees in 2022, albeit from a low baseline. While, again, this represents a retrograde step in progress, it is in the context of an -88% fall in lost time incidents since 1999 and ongoing recognition by the industry of the critical need to keep incidents as close to zero as possible each and every year.

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