SMMT members back staying in the EU

More than three-quarters (77%) of Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) members say backed staying in the EU.

The survey found overwhelming support for EU membership across the board, with 88% of large SMMT member companies and 73% of SME members in favour of remaining.

Only a minority (9%) said leaving would be best, less than the proportion who are uncertain (14% don’t know). No large companies surveyed said an exit would be in their business’s best interests.

Delving into the reasons why the EU is important to them, SMMT members said that access to EU automotive markets has a positive impact on their business (66%). This was followed by a majority saying that access to a skilled workforce (55%) and the ability to influence industry standards and regulations (52%) also have a positive impact on their business.

When asked to provide open-ended feedback, some of the key reasons given for staying in the EU included the importance of economic and market stability, securing the UK’s global competitiveness, and access to the single market’s free trade opportunities.

Looking ahead to the threat of a potential Brexit, 59% of SMMT members said it would have a negative impact on their business in the medium to long term, with a further one in five uncertain about the nature and extent of that impact (18% don’t know). When those foreseeing a negative impact were asked why, fears included becoming uncompetitive and losing business to EU rivals, while the risk of future investment being diverted to the continent also featured highly.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The message from UK automotive is clear – being in Europe is vital for the future of this industry and to secure jobs, investment and growth. UK automotive is thriving, with record car exports, new registrations and the highest manufacturing levels for a decade. Our industry supports 800,000 jobs across the UK and contributes more than £15bn to the UK economy – our members have clearly stated that pulling out of Europe could jeopardise this.”

Dr Ian Robertson, member of the board of management at BMW AG, said: “As a major employer, exporter and investor, the BMW Group is committed to the UK which is home to two of our brands, Mini and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Our experience shows that the free movement of components, finished products and skilled workers within the EU is extremely beneficial to British-based business. We firmly believe Britain would be better off if it remained an active and influential member of the EU, shaping European regulations which will continue to impact the UK whatever the decision in June.”

Tony Walker, deputy managing director, Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK, commented: “Our UK operations are fully integrated within our European business – exporting nearly 90% of all UK-built vehicles. We are very satisfied with the performance our UK operations and are committed to our employees and investments. We also recognise that the UK’s future relationship with the European Union is a matter for the British people to decide. After considered review, we believe that continued membership of the European Union is best for our business and for our competitiveness in the longer term.”

ComRes interviewed 204 members of the SMMT online between 14 January and 17 February.

February figures

Meanwhile, new car registrations increased 8.4% year-on-year in February to 83,395 units, according to SMMT. This was the highest February figure since 2004.

Private new car registrations increased by 22.6% year-on-year, from 30,718 to 37,666. As a result of this increase, the private segment of the market increased its share from 39.9% to 45.2%. Fleet car registrations dropped 1.4% year-on-year in February to 44,254.

Demand was up across all fuel types, with diesel and petrol registrations growing by 5.6% and 10.7% respectively, while alternative fuel vehicles enjoyed an uplift of 19.9%.

Hawes said: “February is typically one of the quietest months of the year, ahead of March’s plate change, but this positive performance is encouraging and puts the sector in a good position for the coming 12 months.”

Richard Jones, managing director at Black Horse, said: “These are encouraging figures for the UK automotive industry, continuing a strong start to the year. The increase can be attributed to a combination of further growth in personal contract purchase financing, ongoing low interest rates for consumers, and continued high levels of manufacturer subsidisation, driving up the volume of affordable new cars coming into the UK market. This time next month we should have a good indication of the outlook for the rest of 2016. Whatever happens, dealers will continue to remain crucial to the car buying journey.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association said: “Increased sales are supported by strong manufacturer deals and low-cost finance offers that are encouraging consumers to buy.

“We anticipate the market to continue to grow, and have strong expectations ahead of next month’s 16-plate change where customers will be likely to take advantage of a range of substantial discounts and savings, in addition to a variety of low-rate finance packages being made available.”

Steve Jackson, chief car editor at Glass’s, said: “February SMMT registration statistics show private customers have been incentivised back into the market with low interest rates, deposit incentives and a selection of new models on offer. The consumer is the market that the manufacturers can currently influence the most to increase volume in the first quarter of 2016. There are no doubts from Glass’s that retail demand will also be the major influencer in the March 2016 figures, the largest new car plate change month of the year.

“Fleet, however, has fallen marginally by 1.4% during the month and is down 1.2% year-to-date. Post-recession fleet has returned to pre-recession volumes and now is largely a numbers game. Manufacturers  are competing for a share of a finite, yet important market of fixed-term contract company car drivers via benefit in kind advantages and financial incentives.”