Just how economically important do Britons think the car manufacturing industry is?
September 29th, 2023, Christien Pheby

Just how economically important do Britons think the car manufacturing industry is?

Rishi Sunak’s announcement that the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be delayed from 2030 to 2035 has sparked a strong reaction in parts of the automotive industry. As carmakers invest heavily in electric vehicles, there is real concern that the switch will disincentivise consumers from making the switch: industry leaders have said that the net zero pivot would sow “confusion and uncertainty”, and cause a “huge headache for manufacturers.”

But if the Prime Minister has caused dismay among carmakers, he has done so at a time when the perceived economic importance of auto manufacturers is in decline.

YouGov tracker data shows that between September 2019 and June 2023 (our most recent data), the percentage of Britons who think the car manufacturing industry is economically significant fell from 71% to 63%. The percentage who think it is not very or not at all economically important rose from 16% to 22%. It’s an improvement from the recent nadir of December 2022 – when just 58% vs. 28% said car manufacturing was economically important as the industry dealt with supply chain issues and a global semiconductor shortage – but it still represents a deterioration compared to a few years ago.

We shouldn’t overstate this decline, as more than three in five Britons still feel the industry is economically significant.  It’s also worth pointing out that our data suggests that a delay to the petrol/diesel ban is more popular than not: by 50% to 34%, Britons support deferring the ban from 2030 to 2035.

But a decision that annoys automakers might not resonate with Conservative voters. Perceptions of the car manufacturing industry’s significance remained relatively stable among Britons who voted Tory at the last election – with 79% saying the industry was very or fairly economically important in September 2019, and 77% saying the same in June 2023.

Labour voters became steadily less likely to think of the industry as economically significant over the past few years: while 74% said it was economically important in September 2019, this has since fallen to 57%: a 17-point decline.