Commercial vehicle production in the UK dropped by 42% year-on-year in March as the coronavirus lockdown caused plants to shut down nationwide three weeks into the month.

Just 5,219 units rolled off assembly lines in March, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Output for the domestic market fell 43.4%, while production for export declined by 40.6% as the pandemic caused widespread business closures and brought commerce to a near standstill around the world.

The EU, the UK’s biggest trading partner for commercial vehicles, saw a drop in exports of 43.3%, with 2,762 units shipped to Europe. Commercial vehicle production fell 22.0% in the first three months of the year with 21,473 units manufactured – 6,000 fewer than in Q1 2019.

In an SMMT survey looking at the impact of Covid-19 on UK businesses across the automotive sector, 42.1% of commercial vehicle manufacturers predict a full recovery from the coronavirus crisis will take at least 12 months with a third (36.8%) expecting a loss in revenue of 30% or more by the end of 2020.

The SMMT welcomed the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), however, which it says has offered a lifeline to many businesses, protecting thousands of jobs, with 57.7% of permanent staff in the CV manufacturing sector on furlough and ready to return to work when the lockdown is lifted.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes said: ““The foundations of UK commercial vehicle production are strong, but manufacturers have been hit hard by the pandemic and factory shutdowns are costing the sector and economy billions. While many businesses have stayed open to ensure continued production of parts so that essential vehicles can stay on the roads to support nationwide response, we need to get all production lines rolling and delivering for the economy again. This means implementing a package of measures that supports the entire automotive industry, from retail through supply chains to vehicle manufacture. This should be seen as long-term investment into the underlying competitiveness of a sector critical to the health of the UK economy and the livelihoods of thousands of households right across the UK.”