LONDON -- A UK exit from the EU will damage the country’s automotive industry, the European automakers lobby group, ACEA, has warned.
The comments add to concerns expressed by automakers such as Ford Motor, BMW and Nissan about the UK quitting the 28-nation economic and political union.
Media reports have said UK Prime Minister David Cameron may bring forward a referendum on the country’s EU membership to 2016 instead of 2017 after he won a recent general election.
“Frankly it will be important for the UK automotive industry to stay within the EU,” said ACEA secretary-general Erik Jonnaert.
A UK withdrawal from the EU could result in tariff barriers between the country and its key European export markets, automakers fear. It would also mean that the UK government would have no input in future EU regulations affecting the industry.
The UK is Europe’s second-largest market for new-car sales after Germany and the region’s third largest producer of cars after Germany and Spain. About 80 percent of the 1.5 million cars built in the UK last year were exported, with half of the exports sent to EU countries, according to the SMMT industry association.
Jonnaert said that the UK’s membership of the EU gives the country a say in future EU legislation. “European automotive standards are seen as globally relevant and are copied by many markets outside Europe, so [the UK] would miss an opportunity to shape them,” he told Automotive News Europe on the sidelines a London conference organized by the Financial Times earlier this month.
Other benefits of staying include access to EU funding for research programs, as well participating in trade negotiations, he said.
Andy Palmer, CEO of UK sports car maker Aston Martin, said free trade was paramount for his company. “I would prefer that we maintain a free trade agreement [with the EU] and at the moment that implies EU membership,” he said at the same event. It is important to have a say in future legislation and trade agreements, Palmer said. “It's always better to have a place at the table than not.”
Last year Ford said it would reassess its UK presence if the country left the EU. BMW sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson believes the UK should stay in the EU. BMW owns the British marques Mini and Rolls-Royce.
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, which operates the UK’s biggest car plant in Sunderland, has said the automaker would reconsider its future in the UK if the country quits the EU.
John Leech, head of UK automotive at accounting firm KPMG, said a British exit, which is being dubbed Brexit by the media, would be damaging to the country. “Over a 5 year to 10 year period you would probably see the competitive landscape tilting away from the UK,” he said.
A poll carried out for the Financial Times ahead of the general election showed that 39 percent of UK voters would be favor of leaving the UK, with 40 percent saying they want to stay.