Europeans are boycotting British cars since the Brexit vote, according to the boss of the nation’s biggest auto firm Jaguar Land Rover.
Dr Ralf Speth, chief executive of JLR, also joined senior figures at rival firms in warning that a hard Brexit would damage the car industry, which supports around 800,000 jobs.
Speaking at the Paris Motor Show, Speth said JLR’s European sales team have reported customers turning their noses up at British cars after the vote to leave the EU.
“They have the very first customers in their showrooms [who] clearly highlight that they don’t want to buy British products any more,” he said.
But he warned that the car industry would feel the pinch much more in the event of a hard Brexit that results in tariffs being slapped on to goods traded with the EU.
He said carmakers would face a double whammy as import tariffs force up the cost of the parts they buy from Europeans and higher export tariffs make JLR vehicles less affordable for Europeans.
“If we face higher tariffs than anybody else then it’s quite clear that it’s reducing the competitiveness of our products, especially in Europe,” said Speth.
He said the exact cost to JLR could not be calculated, although reports this summer suggest that the firm belives it would miss out on £1bn in profit over 10 years if UK goods incur tariffs at the World Trade Organisation rate of 10%.
Speth said JLR had not changed its investment plans in the light of Brexit but hinted that the company may have to spend its money elsewhere.
“We have to realign all of our thinking and work on how to handle this Brexit best,” said the German.
Asked if that could include investment, he said: “Everything.”
Speth’s comments echoed similar warnings from a host of carmakers and the industry’s trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive, said he could scrap a potential new investment in the UK’s biggest car plant in Sunderland if the government refuses to pledge compensation for any post-Brexit tariffs.
Toyota also warned tariffs would hurt its UK production, while Volkswagen-owned Skoda caller for swift clarity on the details of Brexit.
The SMMT also called on the government to do something to prevent an exodus among the UK’s largely foreign-owned car firms.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The government must do all it can to maintain the competitiveness of the UK automotive sector, which has been hugely successful in boosting exports, creating jobs and generating economic growth in recent years.”