UK: SMMT cautions sales will not rise "inexorably"
Home delivery trend is spurring LCV demand: SMMT chief
Relentlessly upbeat figures from the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) showing nearly 500,000 cars were sold in the UK last month, cannot be sustained "inexorably" according to the UK trade body.
Figures released by the SMMT show 492,774 cars were sold in the UK in March 2015 - the best month since the twice-yearly number plate changes were introduced in 1999.
The March total was 6% ahead of last year and was driven by strong sales in the business/fleet sector - which showed an 11.6% increase on last year.
"When you are on the 37th consecutive month [of growth], a shade under 500,000 vehicles," SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes told just-auto at the recent Commercial Vehicle Show in the UK Midlands city of Birmingham: "It is a constant increase - good year after good year after good year. That is not going to continue inexorably."
The UK is currently in the throes of a general election and although the SMMT chief noted the body had "not crawled over the manifestos," it was stressing the success of the British automotive sector.
"It [UK] is a strong domestic market and huge amounts of investment [are] going in," said Hawes. "There is potential for increased production because the UK is a competitive place to do automotive business.
"Which means ensuring business costs not rising and ensuring people invest to address weakness around skills. There is still a skills gap. There is a highly developed workforce, but to maintain that you need to consistently invest in skills."
Whichever party assumes power on 7 May, it will be inheriting a remarkably buoyant British economy, which continues to rebound strongly after years of prolonged and severe recession, a trend mirrored in the sales of LCVs, which were much in evidence at Birmingham last week.
"If you look at commercial vehicle sales, they have been particularly [in] vans," said Hawes. "We had three or four shocking years, so there is a lot of hold-off and people coming back to the market.
"Home delivery with online shipping, which invariably means vans, which means we have to have product that is competitive, cheap to run."
Widening his scope internationally, the SMMT chief noted Russia used to account for 9% of his members' exports, but Moscow's current dramatic economic woes have encouraged UK producers to diversify markets.
"Now 80% of what we produce is exported and half of that goes to the European Union," said Hawes.