Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has little room to spend to support what remains of Britain’s car manufacturing base.
Treasury Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week announced a £55 billion ($66.7 billion) tax increase and spending cuts that a free market think tank called “a recipe for managed decline.”
This includes plans to start charging road tax on EVs over the next few years.
Britain’s austerity policy adds insult to injury from Brexit, which has plunged the country into long periods of uncertainty and car investment delays.
In the 12 months leading up to the 2016 referendum, Britain produced nearly 1.7 million cars. Over the past year, automakers haven’t produced even half of that.
David Bailey, a professor of business economics at the University of Birmingham, said: “We are witnessing a slow-motion car crash in the UK car industry.” “The UK had an industrial strategy, but now the government seems to be sitting on its side.”
Britain’s struggle to modernize its auto industry threatens thousands of industry jobs as the changes redraw the map on which cars are manufactured.
BMW said last month it would shift production of the electric mini hatchback from Oxford, England, to China.
Honda closed its car plant in Swindon last year and left the UK with only four production vehicles: the JLR, Nissan, BMW and Toyota. Britain boasted the world’s second largest car manufacturing base in the 1950s.
It has since fallen to 18th behind rivals including Canada and Slovakia.
Local demand is not a reason to stay around. Companies will post the worst sales in the market since 1982.
Even more worrying is that the UK lacks a substantial battery supply chain needed to support mass production of EVs.
There are reasonably sized battery factories operating in China, owned by the Chinese Envision Group, and have failed to attract investment in additional large-scale facilities.
Britishvolt has been at the center of plans to set up a factory in northern England to supply batteries for millions of electric vehicles. But the startup, backed by mining giant Glencore, is currently seeking funding beyond early December.
The company, less than three years old, struggles with the chicken-and-egg dilemma. British car manufacturers will be reluctant to build new factories or retrofit existing ones unless they can source battery cells nearby. Battery manufacturers are unwilling or unable to invest without predictable customer demand or significant government support.
Unlike Swedish rival Northvolt, which has signed contracts worth about $55 billion with major automakers, British Volt has not secured significant orders.
The company had outline agreements with Aston Martin and Lotus, but neither of the smaller manufacturers made firm commitments.
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