New and premium models boost UK car exports to best-ever July

LONDON Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:01pm EDT

LONDON Aug 21 (Reuters) - Britain enjoyed its best July on record for car exports, an industry body said on Thursday, as production rose by nearly 3 percent year-on-year thanks to new models and strong sales of top-end vehicles.

Britain built nearly 103,000 cars for export, the highest ever for a month of July according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), whose records date back to the 1920s.

Including cars built for domestic sale, production reached 132,570 cars, up 2.8 percent from July last year, and the highest for the month since 2004.

The SMMT said rising exports were due to new models being made in Britain and the increasing popularity overseas of premium and specialist brands such as those made by Jaguar Land Rover.

"This is a major milestone and testament to the burgeoning reputation of UK automotive excellence and demand for British-made cars," SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes said in a statement.

July's growth rate is a slight drop from June's 3.7 percent increase as the expansion starts to level off after several years of rapid gains to recover ground lost since the 2008-09 financial crisis, when output and domestic sales nose-dived.

However the SMMT still expects annual car production to beat 1972's all-time high of 1.92 million by 2017.

The proportion of British-built cars exported abroad has steadily increased from a low point of one in five in the mid 1980s to four in five last year.

Britain's trade deficit in cars in the second quarter of 2014 shrank moderately to 277 million pounds ($461 million) from 317 million pounds a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Premium and specialist marques - including historic brands such as Volkswagen-owned Bentley and BMW's Rolls-Royce - now account for more than half of car exports, whereas they represented only a third a decade ago.

Among the volume models to roll off British production lines and boost figures in the past 12 months are Honda's Civic Tourer estate and a new version of Nissan's Qashqai sports-utility vehicle. ($1 = 0.6008 British Pounds) (Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)