New van sales show first signs of recovery

June provided another tough month for the light commercial vehicle sector, with registrations down 25% compared to the same time in 2019, and sales in the sector were more than 44% down on the first half of last year.

While van sales started to recover compared to May as lockdown conditions eased and more van owners returned to work, they still lagged some distance behind the figures for June 2019. In all, just over 30,000 new LCVs hit the road – 10,000 fewer than in the same month last year, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Nonetheless, this is an improvement on May, when sales were down by more than 74%.

Demand for all types of LCV fell in June – except for 4x4s, where sales grew by 1%, which was down to more high-tech, ultra-efficient new models joining the market, according to the SMMT.

The biggest month-on-month fall in demand was for rigids from 3.5-6.0 tonnes. Sales were down by 64%, with just 291 units sold. However, this could be just a blip as, across the first six months, the decline in sales of rigids was less than that of all other LCV segments, except for pickups.

Meanwhile, demand for smaller vans weighing 2.0 tonnes or under – which are often used as service vehicles – dropped by 49%.

The decline was less pronounced in medium-sized vans weighing 2.0-2.5 tonnes and larger vans weighing more than 2.5-3.5 tonnes down 19% and 23% respectively. This was because these are sold to the wider market from self-employed to corporate fleets, where the easing of lockdown enabled more businesses to get back to work.

Demand for pickups also continued to decline, with registrations down 27%.

In the first half of the year, sales have almost halved (down nearly 45%) with more than 87,500 fewer units registered, which is mostly down to the effects of the prolonged lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. All segments registered double-digit declines in sales, with vans under 2.0 tonnes and pickups being worst hit, with sales declining by more than 50%.

Best sellers

In terms of the best-selling vans in June, the Ford Transit Custom sold more than double its nearest rival the Transit – 5,930 compared to 2,770. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was third, with 2,203 new vehicles hitting the road.

These three dominate sales and have done for some time. Across the first half of the year, the Transit Custom has sold 16,369 units, almost double that of its nearest rival, the Transit. The Sprinter has sold more than 8,000 units, more than 2,000 more than the fourth highest seller, the Vauxhall Vivaro, which has sold just over 6,000 units.

Sales of small vans were down 49% compared to last year, as fleet buyers gravitate to larger vehicles with greater payloads to maximise efficiency. Manufacturers have been moving to adapt to this, as reflected by four of the ten biggest-selling vans – the Vauxhall Combo, Citroën Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Ford Transit Connect – all being smaller vehicles that have moved into mid-sized territory in their latest iterations.

As usual, the overall LCV market results are skewed by the biggest sellers – the top three sell more than the rest of the top ten combined.

Among the manufacturers, Ford still leads the way with one in three van purchases being from the Blue Oval. Mercedes-Benz is now the second biggest seller in the UK, with more than 10% of the market, closely followed by Vauxhall.

Volkswagen, which was the second-biggest seller this time last year has seen its market share decline by 2% to fall to fourth place. The German marque has seen its sales decline by more than 50% compared to this time last year, more than any other of the big manufacturers apart from Renault, whose sales have fallen by 65% year-on-year.

Hopes of recovery

While there is hope that new LCV sales will recover in July as lockdown measures are further reduced and the nation gets back to something approaching normal, there is scepticism that they will get back to 2019 levels this year.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said: “Restart has been slow, while more uncertainty lies ahead as the UK grapples with business nervousness and potential regional lockdown measures. The industry will do all it can to attract buyers but restoring operator confidence remains the vital next step.”

Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealer Association, added: “Demand for cheaper, used vans has already increased, this in turn will push buyers to revisit their fleet requirements and consider new commercials as used vans’ prices rise.

“Over the past months, fewer light commercial vehicles have been produced across Europe and with only essential business operations running, most private and business buyers have held back in these uncertain times.

“As countries start to reopen and manufacturers build new commercials, we hope demand will continue to grow, however it is unlikely it will return to normal levels until 2021.”

Dan Parton
Dan Parton
Dan Parton is a former editor of Truck & Driver, the UK’s biggest selling truck magazine. He is now the editor of our three commercial vehicle titles: The Van Expert, The Truck Expert and Commercial Vehicle Engineer.

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