Growth in the home delivery market and a trend in downsizing are driving significant growth in the light commercial vehicle (LCV) market, research suggests.
Every 10th vehicle on the road is now an LCV and the distance travelled by vans has grown rapidly over the past 15 years.
Indeed, Department for Transport (DfT) forecasts show that LCV traffic is predicted to almost double between 2010 and 2040.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Van travel and ownership has grown significantly in recent years and the Government estimates future growth will also be high.”
Highest rate of internet shopping in EU
“In 2013, three-quarters of British adults shopped online and we have the highest rate of internet shopping in the EU,” he added.
“There is also reason to believe hauliers are switching away from larger vehicles because of changing delivery patterns and growing environmental restrictions on HGVs.”
The RAC Foundation commissioned the report to try to better understand what has been happening with van traffic.
It shows that between 2002 and 2012, the number of vans increased by 29% to 3.3 million, while the number of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) on British roads fell 5% to 460,000.
The study suggests that there are several reasons for this shift from HGVs to LCVs, including a shortage of HGV drivers and changes in driving licence legislation.
The growth of home delivery through an increase in the popularity of home shopping has also played its part.
Glaister said: “In 2013, 72% of British adults shopped online, up from 53% in 2008.”
The RAC Foundation report says that company-owned LCVs – 53% of LCVs are privately owned and 47% are registered to a business – spent 35% of their travelling time collecting or delivering goods.
Interestingly, 32% of travelling time was down to getting to and from work, while personal use was put at 3%.
The research also suggested 39% of LCVs are not efficiently used as they are operated carrying less than a quarter of their cargo capacity.
The average laden factor of an LCV is 38%, which is about 300kg.
However, that appears to contradict data quoted elsewhere in the report which shows that 89% of LCVs pulled over by VOSA were overweight.
In terms of safety, the report says there were 12,575 reported incidents involving LCVs in 2012 – 5% of all reported road traffic incidents.
Many of these incidents occur in major urban areas, but they have reduced both in number (down 29%) and the rate per billion miles driven (down 42%), despite the number of LCVs registered increasing over the same period (up 29%).
The Van travel trends in Great Britain report was published in the wake of record-breaking van registration figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Van registrations were up by 14.6% in March at 50,064 units, while 79,917 vans have been registered in the first three months of 2014 – a 16% increase on the previous year.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The new 14-plate drove van numbers up, pushing the overall commercial vehicle market 11.4% ahead of 2013 to more than 54,000 units.
Record breaking start to year for manufacturers
“Registration plate changes always prove popular with van buyers, so March and September numbers are typically more than double the average month,” he added.
It resulted in a record-breaking first quarter for Mercedes-Benz Vans, with registrations of 6,619, an increase of 12.5% on the same period last year.
In fact, quarter one 2014 was the fifth consecutive quarter with year-on-year growth for the van manufacturer.
Records also tumbled at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles with its best-ever first quarter for LCV registrations. It registered 10,757 units – up 19% from 2013 – cementing its number two LCV manufacturer position.
Glaister concluded: “The subject of future traffic growth and demand for scarce road space is a contentious one.
“To know what provisions we will have to make in the future we need be able to disaggregate total vehicle movement and identify the components that make it up. As this report explains LCVs are one of these key components.”