Asia becomes fastest-growing export market for UK automotive sector

Our new report on the UK’s automotive sector finds that UK exports to Asia increased 21% year-on-year in 2017 - the highest growth of any region.

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Asia became the fastest-growing export market for the UK automotive sector in 2017, with the value of exported goods up 21% on 2016 – ahead of exports to traditional markets in Europe and the US. According to our Automotive Sector Bulletin, in partnership with manufacturing organisation EEF, the rapid rise means Asia now accounts for over a fifth of all UK automotive exports, with growth forecast to remain strong in the future.

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As a result, the UK car industry exported goods to Asia worth £40 billion, making it the ninth largest car exporter in the world. The sector now accounts for 15% of total UK manufactured exports.

Despite the strong growth in Asia, however, the automotive market in the European Union remains the largest in absolute terms, with 45% of UK exports destined for the bloc. This compares to 18.3% to the US (equivalent to £7.3 billion) and 11.3% to China (£4.5 billion). Moreover, eight out of the UK’s top 10 import markets are located in the region, accounting for 84% of imports in 2017.

Paul Brooks, Head of Manufacturing at Santander UK, said:

The UK automotive sector continues to be a highly important, strategic industry at the centre of the UK economy. It is also a major UK export success story. Growing demand from countries such as China, along with established strong sales in the US and Europe, represents an incredibly exciting opportunity for UK automotive businesses - and helping UK manufacturers to capitalise on exporting opportunities is a key focus for Santander.

Fracesco Arcangeli, economist at the EEF, said:

Despite the impressive growth, however, the UK is still lagging behind some international competitors in terms of productivity, particularly German counterparts. Nevertheless, it is clear that the UK is home to world leading automotive manufacturers, which are helping to boost productivity in local areas, and supporting these businesses as they invest for growth and expand further is absolutely key to the ongoing success of this vital UK industry.

The report found that in 2017, the UK automotive sector contributed £16.5 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy, growing by 1.2% in 2017, making it the third-largest manufacturing sector in the UK with £78 billion in annual turnover (as of 2017).

The report also stressed the opportunities for further growth, particularly around improving already high levels of productivity. The automotive sector has been one of the most productive UK manufacturing sectors over the last 20 years: between 1995 and 2015, output per hour increased by 90%. Furthermore, since the financial crisis the sector’s productivity growth has been the strongest of any sector, increasing by 61% since 2008.

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