Carmaker’s European boss says future spending is dependent on post-Brexit trading conditions
Toyota will not invest in building battery electric cars in Britain until at least the mid-2030s, dealing a blow to hopes that UK car factories will take a leading role in the move away from fossil fuels.
Johan van Zyl, the chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, said that hybrid cars containing both internal combustion engines and battery-powered motors would be the only option for the next round of investment at the company’s plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire.
Production of the Corolla at Burnaston is due to end in 2027, and Toyota has yet to decide to invest in production after that point. That means the first zero-emissions Toyota cars would not be built in the UK until 2034 at the earliest, based on the manufacturer’s usual seven-year product cycles.
At the same time, Toyota is also preparing to launch multiple zero-emission battery electric vehicles to cater for countries with the strictest rules. This includes the UK, where all hybrids will be banned by 2035.
Continued production of hybrids with internal combustion engines at Burnaston would be a boon for employment at Toyota’s other UK factory, an engine plant at Deeside. However, in the longer term the future of both plants, and others in the UK such as BMW’s Hams Hall engine plant, could be called into question if they are not favoured for investment in zero-emissions technology.
The factory at Burnaston started production of the Corolla hatchback in January 2019, after a £240m investment that was decided in 2017. At the time, the investment was hailed as a vote of confidence, but future spending will be dependent on Toyota’s assessment of post-Brexit trading conditions.
“By 2027, when this Corolla’s life cycle comes to an end, I think it will be not possible to produce a zero-emissions vehicle there,” Van Zyl said. “Therefore it will have to be a hybrid technology vehicle.”
Van Zyl also warned that a no-deal Brexit would be harmful for the UK and the EU, with only weeks to go until cross-Channel trade moves to new regulations, which are still under negotiation.
Brexit could add to the challenges facing the plant if no deal is agreed and 10% tariffs are imposed on 1 January. Some 90% of Burnaston’s products are exported, meaning they would be hit hard by such tariffs.
Van Zyl said Toyota was “still committed to the UK”, but highlighted the continued uncertainty around trade issues, including rules of origin, which determine whether cars built with imported parts will pay tariffs.
“The message [to the UK and EU] is very simple: we need a deal,” he said. “And that deal must be frictionless. It must be duty-free, and the regulatory framework must be harmonised. And if there’s no deal, it will be harmful for both sides, UK and EU.”