The new light commercial vehicle market declined in February, falling -4.3 per cent to 13,291 registrations, according to SMMT. The downturn follows an exceptionally strong performance in 2016, when the sector recorded an eight-year high in registrations.
Reversing the trend seen in previous months, demand for heavier vans fell, with registrations of vehicles weighing 2.5-3.5t down -1.3 per cent. However, the segment continues to be the most popular, accounting for 65.8 per cent of market share. Small vans under 2.0t experienced a decline, falling -28.5 per cent, while pick-up registrations remained the same at 1,350 units. Meanwhile, demand for mid-sized vans grew, with registrations of 2-2.5t vehicles increasing 9.0 per cent.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said “February is typically a quiet month as buyers look ahead to the March plate change and, following the rapidly growing levels of demand we’ve seen over the past two years, a decline is not unexpected. The sector remains in good health and, barring any shocks to business confidence, we expect demand to remain strong over the coming months.”
NFDA ‘concerned’ at speed of decline
However, Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association, said: “It is concerning to see how swiftly the new light commercial vehicle market went from the positive results shown over the past few months, to the decline in sales seen in February.”
The heavy weight sector between 2.5 to 3.5 tonnes, which accounts for over 65 per cent of all under 3.5 tonnes commercials and is usually the strongest segment, declined by 1.3 per cent in February. Most of these, are usually purchased as fleet commercials by corporate consumers who generally place orders with manufacturers well in advance to enable them to refresh their fleets on a progressive cycle.
Pick-ups saw a strong growth of 28.9 per cent in January, however, this segment held steady in February compared with the same period last year. This market is often driven by retail demand and self-employed who use these dual-purpose vehicles for their trade, often in building and construction.
On a positive note, the mid-size vans between 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes grew by 9 per cent in February. These vehicles are usually used in the service industry, which tends to be less affected by the volatility of consumer demand.
Again, Ford saw the highest number of commercials registered with 4,157 vans hitting the road in the month, a market share of 31.28 per cent. The most popular models were the Transit Custom and its larger sister the big Transit, the Mercedes Sprinter was in third position, followed by the Vauxhall Vivaro and the VW Transporter.
Robinson concluded: “We hope that in March, sales of light commercial vehicles will come back to the steady growth seen over the last few months.”