UK secretary of state (minister) for business, innovation and skills (DBIS) Vince Cable has questioned whether direct government support for the car industry can be maintained given the country’s straitened circumstances.

The previous British administration had pledged buyers of low-emission or electric vehicles could receive up to GBP5,000 (US$7,500) in grant incentives, but it it appears this may now be under review.

“Previous government support was fine when the industry was struggling, but now it is about creating the right environment, tax friendly and giving priority to training and apprenticeships,” a spokeswoman for the DBIS told just-auto.

“Also, the Automotive Council is a good example of a co-operative approach with companies talking to each other. The GBP5,000 grant is a Department for Transport decision but it is still under review.”

Cable’s views come hard on the heels of his visit to Toyota’s plant in Derbyshire yesterday (28 June), where he painted a rosier picture of the British automotive industry.

Speaking as Toyota started production of its Auris hybrid model, the secretary of state hailed the new vehicle as evidence of manufacturing being a key component in Britain’s emergence from recession.

“The basic strategy I have and [which] the prime minister has expanded, [is] we want to see high value manufacturing in the future,” said the business secretary.

“Recovery of the British economy will have to come through manufacturing – around 80% of [Auris] production will be exported.”

Acknowledging the UK automotive industry had been through a “very, very difficult time,” Cable emphasised the importance of the new Auris hybrid production as underpinning employment both in the immediate area in Derby, but also through Toyota’s GBP1.6bn contribution to the British economy through the supply chain.

“This is a vote of confidence,” he said. “I am struck by the fact this launch marks a number of firsts.

“The first time anywhere in Europe for a manufacturer to produce a full hybrid. Burnaston is the only plant in the world to make this hybrid model. It is a very important step.”

Toyota Motor Europe president Didier Leroy added he thought the success of the Prius would also generate Auris hybrid sales.

“Our experience with the Prius tells us the market for hybrids is growing,” he said. “We have sold 2.5m hybrids worldwide and are aiming for 1m per year by the 2020s.

“Auris will contribute to this growth with a full year target of 30,000 vehicles by 2011.”