Van registrations in the UK rose 26.4% in the all-important September plate change market, but warnings remain of uncertainty ahead, including over Brexit.
A total of 52,096 units were registered last month; up from 41,216 in September 2019. But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has warned that last year’s September volume was unseasonably low due to the introduction of the WLTP standard. When put into context, September 2020’s new van registrations were still down 3.3% on 2018’s September market and declined by 6.6% on the September average between 2014-2018.
On a segment level, nearly all saw double-digit increases against previous low volumes; the only exception being small vans weighing less than or equal to 2.0 tonnes decreasing 2.5%, equating to 74 vans fewer than last year. Registrations of medium vans weighing more than 2.0 tonnes to up to 2.5 tonnes grew 11.6%, while the biggest segment, larger vans weighing more than 2.5 and up to 3.5 tonnes, saw the sharpest increase, up by 9,000 units, or 40.9% on September last year.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The sector has shown incredible resilience throughout the ongoing crisis and September’s numbers indicate some confidence is returning as operators seek flexibility and lower operating costs. However, the context of these figures is important as the headline growth belies a very weak September 2019 and is still short of the rolling average. From new social distancing restrictions, to job losses as the furlough scheme comes to an end next month, and the ticking clock that is the end of the Brexit transition period, the next quarter holds myriad challenges for the industry.”
Shedding more light into the figures, the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) said that the decline in light vans under 2.0 tonnes was due to the fact that these vans are often used by engineers in the service sector where a number of large fleets could be holding back to evaluate whether consumer confidence holds up in the coming months.
Sue Robinson, NFDA chief executive, added that leisure demand continued to support the light van market. She added: “This trend is likely to continue as many retail consumers are considering staycation breaks and are buying both new and used mid-size vans for conversion into camper vans.
“Dealers remain cautious as supply issues and uncertainty may present challenges over the coming months. It is vital that we continue to monitor the performance of the commercial vehicles market as it represents a key barometer of the overall UK economy.”
Andy Hill, commercial vehicle manager at Lex Autolease, welcomed the figures and said it was encouraging to see the September new plate had brought the usual increase in sales – in contrast to the car sector.
He also highlighted how sustainability continues to dominate the recovery agenda, ahead of the outcome of the Government’s plans to bring forward the ban of new petrol and diesel vans from 2040 to 2030, and said the most challenging aspect has been waiting for the right vehicles to become available.
“As we start to see more and more OEMs introduce new models, I believe van operators are becoming more engaged to make the switch from ICE vehicles to electric.
“Ultimately, a van is a tool to do a job and operators need confidence that their vehicle is the most cost-effective solution. New alternatively fuelled LCVs can deliver cost savings and increased reliability to rival their ICE counterparts, and as the country heads towards a net-zero emissions future, early adopters of the technology can begin to reap the environmental and cost-saving benefits,” Hill added.