New registration plate unlikely to halt van sales decline

Falling van sales won’t be boosted by the new 72-plate changeover on 1st September, according to a new report


Driving a van with the latest licence plate was once the ultimate bragging right of any business owner. It showed that trade was good and you were able to change your work vehicles to the latest versions complete with the most up-to-date plates.

And as new registration number day approaches this week, you would expect a flurry of activity at commercial vehicle showrooms across the UK, all gearing themselves up for a big demand for the latest 72-plate vans.

But with the UK light commercial vehicle market showing a seventh consecutive month of decline in July, a new report has revealed that less than 5% of van buyers are bothered about having the latest year indicator on their registration plate.

The findings, from independent car and van retailer (and commercial partner of The Van Expert) Motorpoint, shows that buyers now have much more important things on their mind when it comes to getting their next vehicle. And that’s not good news for the UK light van market in which only 18,722 vehicles were registered in July – down from more than 23,600 in the same month in 2021.

Those figures, from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have been blamed on a slow recovery from the Covid pandemic era and general global supply shortages. And leading fleet software and management specialist, FleetCheck, recently said the same reasons were to blame for lease extensions forced on company van fleets which will probably continue ‘forever’.

The Motorpoint survey found that most buyers now thought that a wide range of other factors were more important than the latest number plate when deciding on their next vehicle.

Top of the list for nearly two thirds (63%) of would-be buyers is the vehicle’s fuel type – petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric. And, in the middle of the current cost-of-living crisis, this is closely followed by price (52%) and running costs (47%).

Brand image was next: 27% of those surveyed said the status of the badge on the front of their van is the thing they considered most, while the overall look of the vehicle and, for used vans, its mileage were also important considerations. Even deliberations such as colour, safety features, comfort, availability and on-board technology all ranked more highly than the age identifier on the registration plate.

“Many of us will remember just how big a deal the launch of a new registration plate used to be,” says Dean Walker, director of stock and purchasing at Motorpoint. “But our study confirms that that this is no longer a major factor in the decision-making process for buyers.”

The FleetCheck report earlier this year said fleet bosses had realised that vehicles had the potential to be operated for longer than in the past and they had learned a new skillset to enable this to be done economically and efficiently.

“Fleets have been hanging onto vehicles for longer either because they didn’t cover many miles during the pandemic or they have simply been unable to source replacements,” says managing director Peter Golding. “We’ve gone from a situation where generally vans were operated for replacement cycles of four to five years to one where around a year has been added on average across the board.

“But the longer you operate a vehicle, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. This means that your service and maintenance policies need to be watertight. For a start, moving beyond three years takes most vans over the manufacturer’s warranty as well as moving you into the first MOT. This creates a number of potential cost and safety points that will need to be carefully managed.”

And he added that the arrival of electric vehicles on fleets was also playing a role in the process of extending cycles. He said EVs undergo less wear and tear than their petrol and diesel counterparts, and are ‘likely to remain in a better mechanical condition for longer’.

Motorpoint agrees and says it will take the findings of its survey on board after confirming the impact the cost-of-living crisis has already had on buyers’ decisions.

“These results show just how much things have changed as people have started to feel the financial pinch,” says Dean Walker. “The fact that a vehicle’s fuel type is now the most important consideration underlines that.

“But it isn’t just the case that everyone’s now looking at EVs. We’re seeing lots of interest across all fuel types and in particular diesel, where people recognise the superior fuel economy it can offer on long journeys.”

Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.

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