Boris Johnson may be in trouble over Brexit, but the British car industry is in bigger strife.

The number of cars produced plummeted by almost a half in April, according to figures released this week by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

In total 70,971 cars rolled off production lines in the month, 44.5 per cent less than for the same period last year, as manufacturers battened down the hatches, putting off production and shutting down factories in the face of uncertainty over the planned March 29 exit from the European Union.

Output for domestic and overseas markets fell 43.7 per cent and 44.7 per cent respectively as most large car makers brought forward and extended stoppages that normally occur over the summer holiday period.

The early shutdowns were part of a raft of costly and ongoing contingency measures, including stockpiling, rationalisation, training for new customs procedures and rerouting of logistics – all designed to protect business when the UK leaves the customs union and single market.

The big problem now is that the same measures cannot be repeated for the new October 31 deadline — the cupboard is bare.

April’s diabolical figures, the 11th straight month of decline, exacerbated the underlying downward trend, due largely to slowing demand in key international markets, including the EU, China and the US.

Year to date, 127,240 fewer cars have been built compared with 2018, an overall decline of 22.4 per cent – with similarly large percentage falls in production for the UK and export.

Provided the UK leaves the EU with a favourable deal and substantial transition period, notwithstanding any escalation of global trade tensions, the decline in volumes is expected to ease by the end of the year, as new models come on stream and production lines remain active over the usual summer shutdown months.

However, the latest independent outlook suggests output will still be down some 10.5 per cent on 2018 levels.

A ‘no deal’ Brexit, however, could exacerbate this decline, with the threat of border delays, production stoppages and additional costs compromising competitiveness.

SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, said the figures are evidence of the vast cost and upheaval Brexit uncertainty has already wrought on UK automotive manufacturing businesses and workers.

“Prolonged instability has done untold damage, with the fear of ‘no deal’ holding back progress, causing investment to stall, jobs to be lost and undermining our global reputation,” Mr Hawes said.

“This is why ‘no deal’ must be taken off the table immediately and permanently, so industry can get back to the business of delivering for the economy and keeping the UK at the forefront of the global technology race.”

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.