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
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