Vehicle manufacturers turned over a record £77.5billion in 2016 for a seventh straight year of growth as production output, sales and productivity all rose.
But industry leaders warned that maintaining single market and customs union membership is essential until a new relationship with the EU can be hammered out, which it believes will not be achieved by March 2019.
The EU is by far Britain’s biggest car export market at more than 50 per cent and, without a deal, tariffs could drive up the cost of a Britishmade car by £1,500, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “We accept that we are leaving the European Union and we share the desire for that departure to be a success.
“But our biggest fear is that, in two years’ time, we fall off a cliff edge – no deal, outside the single market and customs union and trading on inferior World Trade Organisation terms. This would undermine our competitiveness and our ability to attract the investment that is critical for future growth. We need a back-up plan.”
The SMMT’s annual sustainability report showed car manufacturing’s value to the UK economy rising by 7.3 per cent to £21.5billion after turnover grew by 9 per cent from 2015.
Spending on research and development was up 10 per cent at £2.75billion.
Employment was stable at 169,000 jobs, while productivity hit a record high of 11.8 vehicles for each person employed.
Hawes said staff turnover had fallen to just 5 per cent compared with the national average of 16.5 per cent as investment in skills had increased.
He added: “Today’s results demonstrate how UK Automotive is delivering growth across the UK. This has been driven by massive investment, in new models, plants innovation and one of the world’s most skilled workforces.
“To continue to thrive, we need clarity on the future, post-Brexit, to encourage ongoing investment and growth.”