Car trouble gets worse

Only 59, 777 new cars were made in the UK last month, a record fall of 59%. And there'll be no British motor show next year either.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

As if that figure wasn’t grim enough, the numbers for commercial vehicle production are even more catastrophic – down no less than 71.6% to a mere 5,870. Total sales were down over 60% and more than 300,000 fewer vehicles have been produced over the last 14 months than for the preceding period.

Amidst all this carnage, it seems hardly surprising that the SMMT has just cancelled 2010 British Motor Show, due to have been held in London. Carmakers apparently are unwilling to commit to the show at present. No, really? There have even been dark rumblings that the show, long overshadowed by bigger and better-supported rivals in Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris and Detroit, may not return. Which would mean an end to one of those traditional British father-son bonding experiences, although a trip to Paris instead would probably be no great hardship for junior…

To be honest that is the least of the industry’s many and varied problems at present. The vicious swiftness with which the recession has hit the car makers seems to have completely blindsided a business which, of necessity, is used to planning production schedules months and even years in advance. It’s one of the particular challenges of this recession that decline is so precipitate there is simply no time in which to take remedial action.

But the fact is that both consumers and businesses have woken up to the fact that they simply do not need a new car or a new truck. The old one is still perfectly OK, so why spend money that you don’t have and can’t borrow to replace it?

You might say that the industry can hardly be blamed for this, nor for failing to see it coming. And up to a point that’s true. But here at MT we can’t help thinking that car sales would be bearing much better than they are if there were some really compelling reasons what a new car was better than your old one. We’re not talking climate control, a better stereo and jazzy alloys here, but real technological innovation to make cars lighter, cheaper, more efficient and much kinder to the environment than they currently are.

This is an industry which talks a good game – no motor show, whether in London, Paris, Frankfurt or Ulan Bator would be complete without a Car of the Future on at least one stand. But they are usually marketing dreams with scant connection to what people actually buy – or don’t.

What’s needed now is some genuinely courageous thinking from some car makers prepared to take a gamble on addressing the real reasons that people have stopped buying cars, rather than lobbying government to support them in their old and increasingly irrelevant ways. After all, how much worse can it get?

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