UK van market falls by 20% in 2020

Coronavirus lockdowns and worries over the UK’s future relationship with the EU affected buying confidence, says SMMT

Registrations of new light commercial vehicles (LCV) in the UK fell by 20% in 2020 as the effects of lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic and worries over the UK’s future relationship with the EU affected buying confidence.

In all, 292,657 LCVs were registered in 2020, a fall of more than 73,000 year-on-year and a cost fo the sector of some £2 billion in retail value, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). This was the first time since 2013 that less than 300,000 units were registered. Much of this was down to the lockdown announced on March 23, which temporarily closed many businesses deemed non-essential. Despite the sector stepping up to meet demand brought about by the rise of online shopping and corresponding deliveries, the effect of the pandemic on businesses, and thus the wider economy, subdued demand.

All van segments saw a decrease in the year, with small vans weighing less than or equal to 2.0 tonnes down 34%, medium vans weighing more than 2.0-2.5 tonnes down just under 16% and larger vans weighing more than 2.5-3.5 tonnes down a little over 16%. Demand for new pickups and 4x4s fell by 33% and 11% respectively.

The figures for December fell by 1% year-on-year as tighter restrictions on public movement came in once again. This reversed a trend of growth in sales over the previous three months.

The Ford Transit Custom was the biggest selling van in the UK, shifting an impressive 5,320 units – almost an eighth of the model’s total 2020s sales – boosted by offers during the month. The Volkswagen Transporter was the second biggest seller, with 2,103 registrations, followed by the Ford Transit (2,009 registrations), the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (1,763) and Ford Ranger (1,414).

Overall, the Ford Transit Custom was by far the biggest selling van in the UK in 2020, selling 43,551, almost double that of the next biggest seller, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter (23,506). The Ford Transit was the third biggest seller (21,724 units), followed by the Volkswagen Transporter (15,856) and the Vauxhall Vivaro (15,530).

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “It’s been a truly extraordinary and testing year for the commercial vehicle sector. From keeping services running, to getting key workers, goods and medicines from A to B, manufacturers and operators alike have adapted to multiple unpredictable challenges.

“Undeniably the LCV market, having shrunk by a fifth, has a lot of hurdles to overcome as we enter 2021. However, investment in fleet renewal will be key to driving recovery, and the sector’s resilience, now coupled with added clarity over UK-EU trading relations and the rollout of vaccines, offers hope for both the van market and the wider economy.”

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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