UK car output up nearly 50% in March after 2020 COVID-19 hit

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FILE PHOTO: Parked cars are seen at the Vauxhall plant as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Ellesmere Port

LONDON (Reuters) - British car production rose by 47% in March compared to the same time last year when factories halted output midway through due to the coronavirus pandemic, an industry body said in the first increase since August 2019.

Volumes stood at 115,498 cars last month, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

"Output was always going to be up but it remains below average, with some 11 billion pounds ($15 billion) worth of production lost over the past year," said SMMT boss Mike Hawes.

The sector also faces the challenge of a lack of semi-conductor chips and adjusting to new trading terms between Britain and its biggest export market, the European Union, the SMMT said.

In a members' survey, 91% said they were spending more time and resources managing UK/EU trade than in 2020. Six in ten large firms see the recovery from COVID-19 taking a minimum of six months whilst a third of those anticipate at least 2 years.

"Companies are already having to absorb additional costs arising from our new trading arrangements with the EU, but must also invest in new technologies, new processes and upskilling the workforce," said Hawes.

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(Reporting by Costas Pitas. Editing by Andrew MacAskill)