JEREMY Clarkson urges Sun on Sunday readers to save Britain’s ailing car industry — warning motorists: “We’ve got to keep the wheels turning.”
The Grand Tour presenter’s plea comes as our investigation reveals 400,000 jobs linked to the motor trade could be at risk.
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And experts say the paralysis of the car industry due to Covid-19 could cost the UK economy at least £12.5billion in manufacturing costs alone this year.
Sun columnist Jeremy, 60, said: “Before Covid, the British motor industry provided employment for more than 800,000 people.
“So when you sign on the dotted line for a new set of wheels, you’ll be helping keep them off the dole.
“And as you feed it, insure it and service it and, in time, take it into the shop for an MoT, you’ll continue to keep the wheels turning.
“If we all sit on our hands expecting Boris Johnson to sort everything out, nothing’s going to get sorted out at all. It’s up to us.”
Our probe lays bare the scale of the crisis facing an industry worth £80billion, which usually contributes £18.6billion a year to the economy.
Just 197 cars have been made since the pandemic hit, putting 80,000 of the nation’s 163,000 car manufacturing jobs under threat.
The Institute for Social and Economic Research says half of the 823,000 jobs linked to the industry may fall as a collateral result — around 400,000 in all.
It predicts the “wholesale, retail and repair of motor vehicles” sector — which includes forecourts, garages and dealerships — could lose 47.6 per cent of its staff.
Many firms are already making cuts.
McLaren is about to axe 1,200 jobs.
Lookers, one of Britain’s largest car dealerships, is to cut 1,500 jobs and 12 dealerships.
Aston Martin and Bentley are to cut 1,500 posts.
And Vauxhall, which employs several thousands, has said many staff could be on furlough until the end of the year.
Baroness McIntosh, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Motor Group, said: “For every job in the car plant, there are another four reliant on it in the supply chain who have highly-skilled jobs.
“The Government will have to look long and hard on keeping the industry alive once the support of furloughing is taken away.
“We can’t allow the industry to be running on empty. The sector is vital to the country.”
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reckons lost production could cost the economy £12.5billion this year.
Boss Mike Hawes said the industry is facing a “tremendous challenge”.
UK car sales are at their lowest since World War Two.
Only 4,321 trickled off the forecourt in April, 97 per cent down on last year.
That rose to 20,000 last month — still 89 per cent down — and 140,000 fewer than the expected total.
Stephen Phipson, boss of lobby group Make UK, warned: “It is going to be a long road back from this for many.”
Industry chiefs are in talks with ministers over the possibility of introducing £1.5billion scrappage scheme similar to that which helped save the car market during the last financial crash.
The “cash for clunkers” project a decade ago is credited with reviving the automotive sector and driving more than 300,000 car sales.
Under the scheme, manufacturers knocked £1,000 off the asking price of a new car — matched by the state — if the traded-in motor was at least a decade old.
They were junked, taking polluting old bangers off the roads.
The stakes on it working again could not be higher.
More than 345,000 jobs are linked to the “aftercare” car market including car showrooms, service and repair workshops, wholesalers, parts manufacturers, importers and distributors.
Work in this sector alone adds £12billion to the economy each year.
Before the pandemic, the sector’s value was set to rise to £28billion and jobs were estimated to rise to more than 400,000 by 2022.
Latest figures show 59,000 young people began engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships in the UK last year.
And 41,000 are currently employed in UK motorsport — 25,000 of whom are engineers.
Former Transport Minister Paul Maynard said: “It’s not just those directly employed in the car factories but those in smaller firms in communities up and down the country that feed into that chain.”
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The Midlands and the North have the most to lose if the industry continues to struggle.
More than 55,000 people make cars in the West Midlands, the home of Jaguar Land Rover.
Almost 4,000 people are employed by Toyota near Derby in the East Midlands.
In the North East, 30,000 jobs are tied to Sunderland’s Nissan factory which makes the Juke and Qashqai SUVs and the Leaf electric model.
Last week, Nissan warned the plant was unlikely to “be sustainable” if the UK and EU do not agree a free-trade Brexit deal.
Tory Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, said: “For people who I represent, the car industry is the core of the manufacturing economy in the North East. The sector is an important facet of life in the community.”
David Bailey, a professor of Business Economics at Birmingham University, added: “Covid-19 has brought a perfect storm, with supply chains disrupted, assembly closed down and car dealers shut.
“The crisis today is worse than the financial crisis a decade ago.”
The threat to jobs puts more pressure on ministers to push ahead with the Project Birch rescue plan for UK firms hit by Covid-19.
Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls-Royce are reportedly at the front of the queue for a bailout.
But car-makers faced enough difficulties even before coronavirus struck.
Thousands of employees are from overseas and, post-Brexit, there are concerns about staff shortages.
Most car parts are also imported so supply lines are threatened.
About 80 per cent of the 1.3million UK-made cars last year were exported, most to mainland Europe.
More came the other way.
The switch to electric vehicles has also hit sales for some firms.
The Government wants to ban all non-electric car sales by 2035.
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Robert Forrester of Vertu, the Bristol Street Motors group, said: “The problem with electric cars is that they are expensive and the British consumer is getting poorer.”
Meanwhile, we can reveal that ministers want to put e-scooters at the centre of a new transport revolution.
They will urge people use them instead of buses and trains.
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