Blog: Dave LeggettVehicle industry facts - SMMT

Dave Leggett | 30 May 2007

The UK's auto industry trade association, SMMT, produces a neat little fact book annually about the UK auto industry and market (called, appropriately enough, 'Motor Industry Facts - 2007'). It's just landed on my desk. There's all sorts of stuff in it, but a quick flick through usually causes a few stats to jump off the page.

The number of cars on the UK's roads continues to rise (almost 31m units in 2006; 29m in 2001 and 26m in 1996) and it raises the question of where market satiation, in terms of sheer numbers of cars on the road, will be. Where's the limit? Is the relentless rise in the car parc due to population growth (there's been a sizeable influx of immigrants to Britain in recent years, permanent or not) or simply that more households are able to have more cars on the back of higher wealth - mainly rising house prices that allow some 'equity withdrawal'.

Whatever, the growth of the car parc is remarkable. We seem not to be deterred by the rising road congestion implied - it would be interesting to see what average distances travelled per car look like over time (I suspect it has not changed very much, suggesting that with more cars on the road, we are actually using the road network more efficiently in the sense that vehicle-kms are rising).

And cars must also be lasting in the parc longer, as the new car market appears not to have been growing as rapidly as the parc has been (though average age could still be declining, consistent with a longer 'tail').

I feel a spreadsheet to properly look at new demand versus replacement demand coming on. (Done and the above is not quite correct: more of the annual car market is now 'implied replacement' - that is, cancelled out by parc exits/scrappage; or new car market less annual change in parc - rather than 'net new', than was the case at the beginning of the decade, suggesting that parc growth is now on a diminishing trend. But my brain now hurts.)

The other thing that jumped off the page is that casualties from accidents have been going down. More cars, same sorts of distances travelled per car, but we're having fewer serious accidents. In 2005, the number of people killed or seriously injured in accidents was 33% below the 1994-1998 average. Wow. Is public education actually working or am I missing something?

And did you know that car crime - especially theft from vehicles - has dropped by 51% since 1997? That's phenomenal and must say something about vehicle security improvements. Mind you, the kids who used to nick car stereos have probably moved on to taking cell phones and iPods off people in the street. Easier pickings.

You can download the report on the SMMT's website.

While we are on the subject of SMMT, I was a little surprised to learn that its Chief Executive Chris Macgowan is standing down at the end of the year. He's done a very good job and will certainly be a tough act to follow. What's his big achievement in the job? I suspect it will be to have presided over the successful move of the British Motor Show from Birmingham to London. It has more than a fighting chance of a viable future now. 

SMMT home page


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