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Safety can’t take backseat as auto industry starts road to recovery

To say the last few months have been turbulent for automotive manufacturers would be a colossal understatement. The coronavirus pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on nearly every business sector, but automotive has been hit particularly hard.

First, when the virus was devastating the Far East, the supply chain dried up and led to a massive slowdown in production. Then, European manufacturers had no choice but to halt their production lines entirely as COVID-19 began to strike closer to home.

Of course, it’s not just production which has slowed. With our towns and cities locked down for months, and huge employment and financial uncertainty for millions of people, car sales have also cratered.

In the UK, statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that new car registrations have fallen by a staggering 48.5 per cent compared to the first six months of 2019. That represents the worst six-month period since 1971, with April and May representing particularly bad months at the depth of the crisis.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. While the numbers are shocking, June represented an improvement on what had come before. While it was still down year-on-year, it did represent a major uptick on May and the hope will be the numbers improve significantly in the second half of the year as a sense of normality returns.

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive at the SMMT, had this to say: "While it's welcome to see demand rise above the rock-bottom levels we saw during lockdown, this is not a recovery and barely a restart." He says that without an economic boost from the government, consumers will not have the confidence to buy personal cars and businesses won't invest in their fleets.

It goes without saying that manufacturers will be suffering a severe financial toll. As the long road to recovery begins, they will be doing everything they can to maximise revenues and encourage people to invest in new vehicles despite the prevailing market conditions.

However, it is vital that manufacturers continue to prioritise safety. The sector has a good reputation for implementing safety recalls as a precautionary measure and while there may be a temptation to soften this approach due to the financial impact, to do so would be fundamentally wrong.

Safety can never take a backseat and while the short-term cost of a recall won’t be welcomed by manufacturers, it will be worth it in the long term. Failure to implement a precautionary recall will only damage consumer confidence more if something were to go wrong, and that will only lead to further damage to the manufacturer in the longer term.

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