Dans la course mondiale aux subventions, les constructeurs automobiles britanniques en pleine incertitude

Des voitures Mini Cooper à l’usine de Cowley, à Oxford (Angleterre), le 11 septembre 2023.

A cloud of uncertainty seemed to weigh down the atmosphere of the major British automotive industry conference dedicated to the electric transition, held on Monday, September 18th in London. Stuck between the United States and China, who heavily subsidize, and the European Union (EU), who is preparing its response and considering imposing tariffs on Chinese imports, the manufacturers based in the United Kingdom are facing major difficulties.

“I cannot reword”

Several investments in favor of the electric transition have been announced in 2023. BMW will invest 600 million pounds (696 million euros) to produce the electric Mini in Oxford, reversing its initial decision to manufacture everything in China. Nissan is partnering with Chinese company AESC to develop a gigafactory in Sunderland, located in the northeast of England.


Tata, on the other hand, is investing £4 billion in another gigafactory. “But it’s not enough,” warns Mike Hawes, the director of the Society of Motors Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the organization representing the sector. “We are expecting an industrial strategy from the British government,” he says. Especially since several serious problems require an urgent solution.

Le premier, immédiat, est une suite directe du Brexit. Londres et Bruxelles négocient actuellement de nouvelles règles sur le commerce de batteries. S’ils ne parviennent pas à s’entendre, des droits de douane de 10 % seront imposés sur les véhicules électriques.

In late 2020, the Brexit agreement had allowed for tariff-free sales of cars between the EU and the UK, on the condition that at least 40% of the spare parts were manufactured locally. Starting from 2024, these rules will become stricter, increasing to 45%, and especially to 60% for batteries. However, the vast majority of manufacturers do not comply with this requirement.

The automotive industry is confident. If there is no agreement, customs duties would be imposed on cars manufactured in the UK and exported to the EU (750,000 vehicles in 2022), as well as on those manufactured in the EU and imported to the UK (1.3 million vehicles in 2022). European manufacturers are also putting pressure to reach an agreement. “Anything that makes vehicles more expensive is a concern,” says Alex Smith, the CEO of Volkswagen in the UK, which holds a 20% market share in the country.

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