The UK car industry is “in the fight of our generation” for its survival due to the transformation sparked by electrification, autonomy and environmental concerns – and securing a tariff-free trade deal will be vital to ensuring it can thrive post-Brexit.

That’s the view of George Gillespie, the president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Speaking at the organisation’s annual dinner, he said uncertainty since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU has cost the industry billions in investment, risking the ability of UK firms to develop future technology.

Talking about the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU, Gillespie said: “We need frictionless, tariff-free trade. Access to the best talent. Preferential access to markets across the world. And we ask that our political leaders recognise the conditions our sector needs to continue to be world leading and to work with us to deliver them.”

The SMMT estimates that the introduction of World Trade Organisation tariffs on exports from the UK to the EU would add £3 billion in costs.

Gillespie added that UK car firms have already “wasted millions” on no-deal Brexit preparation and that uncertainty has hit long-term investment.

“Before the referendum, it [investment] averaged £2.5 billion per year,” he said. “Until recent new announcements, that figure had fallen to a paltry £90 million in the first half of this year. Across every UK manufacturer, that is barely enough to keep our existing plants operational.

“It doesn’t need to be this way. If we can secure a European trading arrangement that gives us frictionless and tariff-free trade, this industry is committed enough, passionate enough, driven enough to make it work.”