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'Huge Uncertainity' in British Car Market After Brexit Vote

June 29, 2016
The country's automotive sector employs around 800,000 people and produced 1.59 million cars last year. Some 80% of those were exported, mostly to Europe.

LONDON—Britain's car sector on Wednesday said its growth depended on the country keeping "unrestricted access" to the European single market--a situation thrown into doubt by Brexit.

"UK automotive has gone from strength to strength, and is now delivering record turnover, record productivity and more jobs," said Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry body SMMT, at an annual conference in London featuring car bosses from across Europe.

"This success has been due to unrestricted access to the single market, input to EU legislation to safeguard the interests of UK automotive, and the ability to recruit talent from abroad.

"Our growth depends on certainty and continued open and reciprocal access to the 100-plus markets with which the UK automotive industry so successfully trades."

Hawes added that he was referring to finished cars as well as components, technologies and the wider automotive supply chain.

"Any risks and uncertainty to these fundamental benefits need to be addressed head-on by UK government," he said.

The country's car industry employs around 800,000 people and produced 1.59 million cars last year. Some 80% of those were exported, mostly to Europe.

Britain last week voted in a referendum to quit the European Union, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for the country to remain in the bloc, to announce that he would step down later this year.

Ahead of last Thursday's vote, major car makers, including Nissan and Toyota, voiced fierce opposition to Brexit--pointing to the fact that most of their British production is exported to Europe and beyond. 

Other leading automakers producing in Britain and thus in the firing line include Jaguar Land Rover's Indian owner Tata and BMW, the maker of the Mini and Rolls-Royce.

Uncertainty May Hit Investment

A report also released Wednesday by the SMMT said: "Access to the single market and EU-negotiated international trade deals, the ability to recruit talent internationally and influence new standards have all helped make the UK automotive industry one of the world's most competitive. 

"This has helped attract billions of pounds in investment in recent years, delivering record productivity, job creation and growth."

Britons voted to leave the 28-nation EU bloc despite warnings that it could potentially spark a recession and markets turmoil.

"Any Brexit-induced economic slowdown will impact on car sales in the UK," warned David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston Business School.

"The big issue, though, is the huge uncertainty over future trading relations with Europe. That will hit inward investment in the industry in the UK," he told AFP.

"That uncertainty on trade needs to be nailed down as soon as possible so that investors can retain confidence that they can assemble in the UK and export to Europe."

The modern-day success of Britain's car industry is largely down to foreign firms--like BMW, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota--that have invested heavily in the country.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016.

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