British commercial vehicle production fell 15.5% in 2020 to just 66,116 units, the lowest annual output since 1933, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Export output was down 17.8% to 37,893 while production for the UK domestic market fell 12.2% to 28,223.

"More than half (57.3%) of all British-built CVs [were] destined for global markets underlying the importance of frictionless trade," SMMT said in a statement.

Chief executive Hawes told Sky News' Ian King Live on Thursday the UK auto industry had "dodged a bullet" with the post-Brexit free trade deal but additional border checks hindering 'frictionless trade' were causing problems for UK automakers with some having to resort to flying in urgently needed components.

December output was down 9.2% to 6,638 CVs, "rounding off a weak quarter and awful year for the CV sector which turned out 12,154 fewer units than in 2019", SMMT said.

"The coronavirus pandemic, with social distancing measures and multiple lockdowns throughout the year, badly affected manufacturing capabilities and demand, while uncertainty right up until the end of the Brexit transition period dented business confidence."

These issues meant production for both the overseas and domestic markets declined, down 17.8% (to 37,893) and 12.2% (28,223) respectively.

Nevertheless, almost six out of every 10 commercial vehicles built in the UK in 2020 were exported, with the key market, the EU, placing the majority of orders (94.9% export share). While the EU was by far the sector's biggest overseas customer, 670 units were exported to Israel, 288 to Taiwan, and 248 to Russia. Vehicles were also shipped to 50 other countries.

The UK's top selling light commercial model line, the Ford Transit, is imported from Turkey while other popular van lines from Renault, PSA and Stellantis are imported from Europe. PSA builds a proportion of its van model line in Luton.

Hawes said in the statement: "2020 challenged commercial vehicle manufacturers beyond belief and, as the final figures show, reflect what has been the worst year in a lifetime for the sector. The pandemic hit markets across Europe while prolonged uncertainty threatened business confidence at home, as a potential 'no deal' Brexit loomed over the industry for much of the year and was only put to rest on Christmas Eve. However, with the vaccine rollout now in full swing and the necessary clarity businesses need for cross-channel trading requirements now visible, there is hope for the future.

"2021 must be focused on recovery and growth for commercial vehicle manufacturing. This starts with providing the right conditions to both attract investment and accelerate the take up of alternatively fuelled vehicles – a crucial next step on the way to a rapid and successful sector transition in the UK."

Separately, SMMT said UK engine manufacturing fell 27% last year to just over 1.8m units.

Production for domestic and overseas markets fell 23.4% and 29.1% respectively. December saw production fall 7.9% "to round off bleak year for the sector".

Hawes said: "2020 was a tough year for UK engine manufacturers with the coronavirus pandemic chiefly responsible for the fall in output. That said, factories still turned out more than 1.8m internal combustion engines, with the majority of these exported globally. This reinforces how important it is that, in the increasingly rapid transition to electrification, the UK's skilled engine manufacturing workforce is not left behind, as they should be a critical component in positioning the country as a competitive place to produce ultra-low and zero emission vehicles."