London — UK car production increased in April, with 127,952 vehicles produced, up 5.2% year on year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said Thursday.
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The move follows a double-digit decline in the same month last year when Easter bank holiday timing affected output, but growth was also buoyed by a production ramp-up at several plants to deliver a number of key new and updated models, the industry group said.
"While April's growth isn't altogether surprising given the significant decline in output this time last year, it is good to see earlier planned investment into new models delivering results," SMMT CEO Mike Hawes said in a statement.
But, he added, "given such investment was made on the basis of the free and frictionless trade afforded by our EU membership, the ability of UK plants to attract the next wave of new models and drive future growth depends upon maintaining these competitive conditions after Brexit."
As a result, Hawes said it is "critical that government acts to safeguard our participation in the EU customs union and single market."
Manufacturing for both home and overseas markets grew by 7.3% and 4.7%, respectively, in April -- breaking an eight-month decline in output for the domestic market -- with 103,662 cars built for export in the month and accounting for 81.0% of production, SMMT said.
Year-to-date output remains down 3.9%, however, with a total of 568,378 cars leaving production lines in the first four months of 2018.
Four-fifths of these were exported, as domestic demand fell 10.3% against a less substantial 2.2% decline in vehicles destined for global markets.
Commenting on the figures, Stuart Apperley, director and head of UK automotive at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said that April data "show that there are some signs of green shoots for the sector."
The fall in domestic demand both in the UK and across Europe recently "appears to have been caused, in part at least, by poor weather during the first quarter and is now expected to level off," he said.
"Growth in China and the US remains strong, albeit slowing, and is significant for those UK manufacturers targeting the global, not just European, market," Apperley said.
"If falling inflation, together with a delay in any rise in UK interest rates, boosts consumers' spending power in the months ahead, then these could all lead to the sector stabilising during the rest of the year," he said.
But "there's no doubt that the major threats that have weighed heavy on the industry in recent months still remain," Apperley said.
"What manufacturers -- and the whole supply chain -- need more than anything is certainty: around not just our government's attitude towards diesel but that of other markets around the world, and around the potential for frictionless trade with the EU for years to come," he said.