The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported that 866,656 cars were built in British factories in the first six months of this year. That’s 2.9% less than the figure for the same period in 2016, but still the second highest since 2004.

The number of cars intended for export also fell, but by only 0.9%. Their proportion of the total therefore rose to 78.9%, the highest since the 82.7% recorded from January to June 2012.

With four-fifths of all the cars produced here being sold abroad, exports are clearly crucial to the UK motor industry. Where do these cars go?

More than half of them go to other countries in the European Union, but the single largest foreign market is the USA, which accounts for 15.6% of our export output.

The second highest proportion, 8.4%, goes to Germany, followed by Italy (7.4%), China (7.0%), France (6.7%), Belgium (5.0%), Spain (3.5%), Australia (2.8%), Turkey (2.3%) and Canada (2.2%).

A further 5.1% are sent in total to Japan, South Korea, Russia and South Africa. The SMMT does not go into further detail below this level, but UK-built cars are also exported, in very small numbers, to around 150 countries not including the ones mentioned above.


The most successful model manufactured in the UK is the Nissan Qashqai, built in a factory near Sunderland, followed by the MINI One, the Vauxhall Astra (badged as an Opel when sold anywhere but here), the Honda Civic and the Toyota Auris.

Land Rover takes most of the minor placings in the Top 9 published by the SMMT with the Discovery Sport, the Ranger Rover Sport and the Evoque. Nissan, however, makes another appearance with the Juke at number eight, one place ahead of the Evoque.

Despite the success in countries far from these shores, there is concern about the effects the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union may have on car exports.

“World-class engineering, productivity, strong government collaboration and massive investment in the part few years have helped UK Automotive become a global success story,” says SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes.

“At the heart of this has been the free and frictionless trade we’ve enjoyed with the EU – by far our biggest customer and supplier. But Brexit uncertainty is not helping investment and growth is stalling.

“The government has been in ‘listening’ mode but now it must put on the table the concrete plans that will assure the future competitiveness of the sector. Investors need certainty so, at the very least, the UK must seek an interim deal which maintains single market and customs union membership until we have in place the complex new agreement sought with the EU.”