Where’s my new car coming from?

  • 11 car manufacturers still produce cars in the UK
  • Over £37 billion worth of new cars were imported in 2018
  • 1.52 million cars were built in the UK in 2019
  • 2.31 million new cars were purchased in the UK in 2019

When you buy a car what’s the first thing you think about? Is it the mileage, the car safety rating, the extras, the colour? Or do you think about where the car was made and how long it’s going to be before it gets to your front door?

In the UK in 2019 we built 1.52 million cars and a considerable number of those will have been exported to EU and non-EU markets for sale. In that same 12 months 2.31 million new cars were driven out of dealerships and onto UK roads. A minority of these cars will have been manufactured in British car plants, the rest will have been imported on huge container ships from around the globe.

Recent developments in car manufacturing outside the UK

In 2017 Dyson announced that they have started the move into the world of electric cars with the first ones due to be driven off the lot in 2021. The British company, well known for their high quality and expensive vacuum cleaners and hairdryers, has been researching and developing the Dyson EV in Hullavington, Wiltshire.

In October 2018, Dyson announced that they had determined these innovative electric vehicles would be manufactured at a brand new plant in Singapore rather than their UK homeland. The decision was made as Dyson believed the EV market to be bigger in Asia, so to their minds it made sense to be closer to this large customer base.

Though Dyson cancelled their electric vehicle project in October 2019, saying that the £2.5bn project was not “commercially viable”, the British company is not alone in choosing to build their cars outside the UK. Though the export value of cars and car components from the UK in 2018 reached £44.4 billion, the import value was a much larger market, valued at over £57 billion. On average, 80% of vehicles produced in the UK are intended for export.

A number of car manufacturers maintain plants in the UK and many of them still produce cars, however, that number has decreased in the last three decades.

The perfect example of a carmaker that once had a huge presence in the UK, as a ground-up producer of vehicles for the UK and European market, is Ford.

How Ford’s role as a UK car manufacturer changed

Though engines and transmissions are still made at their three UK-based plants (in Dagenham, Bridgend and Halewood), the days of making transit vans, Cortinas and Anglias are long gone.

The last Ford passenger car made in the UK was completed over a decade before, in 2002.

When the last Ford transit van left the Dagenham production line in July 2013, Ford ended a history of 100 years of making vehicles at the plant.

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The moving feast of car manufacturing in the UK

Ford is not the only manufacturer to cease production of vehicles in the UK. In 2006, Peugeot stopped producing cars in their Ryton factory in favour of making cars at their Slovakia-based plant.

In the 1950s the UK was the largest global exporter of cars in the world and the second-largest manufacturer. The UK was known for luxurious vehicles, like Rolls Royce and Bentley, and the quirky iconic two-door MINI.

But times have changed. Companies like the German BMW and French PSA Group (the parent company of Peugeot and Citroen) now own some of the most well-known British marques. BMW purchased MINI in 1994 and Rolls Royce in 1998, and PSA Group now owns Vauxhall, having bought the carmaker from General Motors in 2017.

Though these developments are a positive move for businesses that had started to struggle in what has become a highly competitive market, it has also facilitated a move away from cars completely manufactured in Britain by British companies.

Where is my new car made?

There are still a number of car manufacturing plants based in the UK producing cars for the UK and global market, including Toyota, Nissan, Vauxhall, Jaguar and MINI. However, not all the cars on their sales lists are made here.

Bestselling cars in the UK and where they come from

In the UK in 2017 the highest-selling new car on the road was the Ford Fiesta, which sold over 94,000 units. The Ford Fiesta, until 2002, was manufactured at the Dagenham plant. Once the UK production line was closed, Ford moved production of their Fiesta to Spain and Germany.

According to a list compiled by the SMMT of the top 10 new cars registered for use on UK roads in 2017 only 3 were actually made at UK-based car plants; the Nissan Qashqai (in fourth place), the Vauxhall Astra (in sixth place) and the MINI (in eighth).

One in three cars sold to UK drivers is made in, and exported from, Germany. If the UK were to exit the EU without a deal then the German car industry could take a huge financial hit.

Last year the UK imported cars valued at over £15 billion from Germany, more than a quarter of the total value of cars imported for the whole of 2017 and just under 10% of Germany’s total car export revenue.

Cars with a total value of over £34 billion were imported into the UK from all over the world. 97.4% of that total (worth over £33 billion) was shipped from just 15 countries.

Graph showing import and export figures for UK in 2017

As you can see from the graph above, 11 of the 15 countries that make up the largest UK car import market are members of the European Union. The fact that the EU member states are such a sizeable source of the cars on British roads is something we touch upon in our article about how Brexit will affect the car manufacturing industry in the UK.

What cars are manufactured in the UK?

If you are concerned with the environmental impact that your car makes before you get to drive it for the first time there are still some car manufacturers who produce cars in the UK for the UK market (and beyond).

In total there are 11 mainstream manufacturers that still make complete cars at plants across the UK, these are:

  • MINI
  • Honda
  • Toyota
  • Bentley
  • Nissan
  • Lotus
  • Aston Martin
  • Rolls Royce
  • Jaguar
  • Land Rover
  • Vauxhall

There are also a few smaller car companies producing vehicles in lower volumes, these companies are the epitome of British engineering.

These smaller companies build cars that are not intended for the everyday driver who needs a car to get to work or pick up the kids from karate. But that’s not to say you can’t use them for that if you want to.

Caterham Cars is based in Crawley, West Sussex. Each of the sports cars this small company sell is custom built and carefully crafted by hand.

In Surrey, McLaren Automotive develop their ground-breaking Formula One cars and other high-tech, high-horsepower vehicles.

Morgan driving on water-logged British roads

The Morgan Motor Company are specialists, they are the last family-owned and run British motor manufacturer in the country and have been around for over a century. Morgan’s output is low volume and every single car is luxuriously crafted.

Many of the larger more commercial manufacturers depend on the delivery of component parts for their vehicles from distribution centres based in the EU, such as Honda where over 300 trucks travel every single day. These parts (including tyres, engines and transmissions) are transported over the channel and across multiple borders. These daily stock deliveries will potentially be affected by the introduction of new import and export regulations after Brexit.

Though some of these manufacturers receive deliveries daily from European suppliers, the cars themselves are made by UK workers in UK production plants. The final journey that these British-made cars make from the factory to your door is far shorter than the voyage some carry out on container ships and trucks before they make it into the country.

When it comes to buying a car, is the place it’s assembled the final decision-maker for you? If so, with 11 commercial manufacturers and a few specialists producing cars in the UK, you aren’t short of choice. There are plenty of options, from runarounds like the Vauxhall Astra and the MINI Cooper to the more luxurious Bentley Continental and sporty Aston Martin Vanquish.

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