Britain’s car industry is in a tailspin. Over the last few weeks Jaguar Land Rover has announced that 1,000 staff are to lose their jobs, Vauxhall is to slash a number of dealerships while Nissan has said up to 10pc of its workers are going from its giant Sunderland site.
Each of the three car companies has its own individual problems which explain the cutbacks.
JLR has been caught on the hop by the sharp fall in diesel car sales while Nissan is laying off staff – it hopes temporarily – as it sorts out new eco-friendly models.
And Vauxhall? It makes one of the UK’s three top-selling cars, the Corsa, but it still needs a makeover.
Jobs threat: Nissan has said up to 10 per cent of its workers are going from its giant Sunderland site (pictured)
Yet behind the excuses there are concerns that the UK’s car industry is feeling the bite of changing demand, that the records set over the last few years for new car registrations and production were a peak.
More than 2.5m new cars were registered in 2017, while production hit a record 1.7m.
The latest Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders figures bear out those fears.
They show a double-digit fall in cars made for domestic demand, and for export.
These are big drops, and can be explained by bad weather, the effect of Government incompetence on diesel fuel policy, and nerves over post-Brexit arrangements. Half the UK’s car exports go to the EU.
Dieselgate has much to answer for. Drivers are being put off diesel fuel cars because of horror over new taxes and because they don’t want to belch pollution.
The boss of Ford, Andy Barratt, was spot on when criticising the Government’s response as chaotic: ‘The poor motorist just doesn’t know what to do. We need to clarify where diesel works and where it doesn’t.’
They certainly do know – they are not buying. Diesel car sales fell by nearly 40pc this March compared with last year, and further falls are forecast. At the least, the Government must tell consumers what future policies will be towards diesel and other low-emission technologies, otherwise they are in danger of creating a false market.
It must also quickly hammer out a trade deal with the EU on industrial goods: car makers either side of the Channel need clarity. No one wants any divergence on regulations, and an agreement mirroring the common external tariff could work.
There are other phenomena which explain a softening in car markets, not just here, but around the world.
They range from the sky-high cost of having a car, the rise of Uber and other taxis on demand, suffocating car parking restrictions, better public transport, trends in car-sharing and increasing urbanisation which means millennials can neither afford cars nor have places to keep them.
Passing your driving test as a teenager used to be a rite of passage into adulthood. Not any more.
The number of youngsters taking their test in the UK has fallen sharply while in Japan the number of people below 30 getting their licence is down by more than a third. In the UK, the number of 17-to-18-year-olds is just about back to pre-recession levels but the trend is downward.
Add confusion over which car to buy – diesel, petrol or electric – and no wonder there is consumer stasis.
Car makers are meeting this head-on. Ford is changing the way dealerships work as well as launching new services such as a Chariot London commuter shuttle, booked and paid for by smartphone.
BMW and Daimler have started car-sharing businesses while China’s Didi Chuxing has launched an electric car-sharing pool with Ford, Renault and Nissan.
Henry Ford must be spinning in his grave; his dream of everyone owning a car, however rich or poor, may have gone forever.
Amazon is now worth a cool £521billion, making it the third biggest firm in the world after Apple and Microsoft.
After yesterday’s fabulous figures showing another leap in first quarter earnings, the giant online retailer looks unstoppable.
Whether it’s cloud computing or food sales or delivering parcels to your car, Amazon has only just got started.
As Jeff Bezos always says, everyday is Day 1. Analysts predict growth of 20 per cent a year for years to come. So how big can it get?
That’s one for Alexa to answer.