Britain's car makers are running out of fuel to build models and X-reg sales have dramatically slowed in dealerships. Vauxhall was the first major victim of the fuel blockade yesterday morning when its Luton plant ran out of petrol to fill new cars rolling off the production lines and Ford lines could stop later today (wednesday).

Although production continued as finished cars were pushed to compounds the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said they expected the industry to grind to a halt by the end of this week. Major car makers across the country are now reviewing their production plans as their modest fuel stocks dwindle and threaten to stop the lines.

The car plants are likely to be hit by a combination of factors which will escalate this week and could mean nearly all shut down by the weekend or struggle into next week.

Workers are increasingly finding it difficult to buy fuel to get to their jobs, an assortment of fuels are used in manufacturing processes and cars leaving the plant need a minimum to be driven to parking compounds or onto transporters.

Stocks of essential fuels are only held for about three or four days by the car makers and their situation depends on when they were last refuelled and how quickly tanks are emptied.

The car makers also depend for continuity of production on components reaching them from suppliers and these firms are also affected by the situation.

All the major car makers in Britain yesterday said they were daily reviewing stocks and production levels and could not say precisely when the lines would stop but few thought they would be able to continue into next week.

"Large scale production will probably stop by the end of this week," said Al Clarke of the SMMT. "Its time the Government sorted out this problem."

Britain's biggest car maker, Nissan, said there was no immediate problem at its Sunderland plant but continuity of production was a major concern and it was reviewing the situation each day. "Fortunately the majority of our associates live within ten miles of the plant but we are looking at contingency plans," said a spokeswoman.

Honda's Swindon plant spokesman Paul Ormond said it would not be too long before the blockade made an impact on production as workers would be unable to reach the factory. Within the plant fuel supplies were crucial, he added, but no stoppage was imminent.

Staff at the Toyota Derby plant have already been told to share lifts if at all possible to cut fuel use and production continues but situation was being closely monitored, said a spokeswoman. A Ford spokesman predicted their plants at Halewood, Dagenham and Southampton would have problems maintaining output by this afternoon (Wednesday).

In the Midlands, Land Rover, Peugeot and Rover factories were still making models and some fuel was readily available but management was concerned about how long they could continue and how soon the shortages would affect line workers. Some were experiencing problems getting stocks of diesel fuel in particular.

Prestige manufacturer Rolls-Royce, whose cars are among the thirstiest, said its Crewe plant was unaffected but it was looking at the situation each day.

In Wales, car dealerships faced problems getting new X-registration models to customers who have been eagerly awaiting the new number plate. But they have also been suffering as potential buyers hold off visiting showrooms to save fuel.

They saw an encouraging start to X-reg sales two weeks ago, but as the fuel blockade bites the showroom traffic has almost completely dried up. It has been the same in used car businesses as well.

Car rental companies have also been devastated by the fuel famine because hirers give back cars with empty tanks and there is no way to refill them for the next customer.

The only people with booming business at the moment are LPG suppliers, but there are limited outlets for the cheaper alternative to petrol and diesel. Shell is about to announce a rapid expansion of its sites selling LPG following an agreement with Calor, but that will not come soon enough to help struggling motorists this week.


Robin Roberts, Motoring Editor, Western Mail