The new light commercial vehicle (LCV) market fell by 8.8% in December, capping off a mixed year for the sector, which saw a moderate decline of 1.3% in 2018, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Performance in 2018 was boosted by the strong showing from pickup (up 4.3%) and 4x4 (up 303.4%) models, meaning 3,548 more of them on the road compared with the previous year.
Overall registrations of 357,325 were still enough to make 2018 the fourth best year on record, beating industry forecasts.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “This sector is a key indicator of business confidence in the UK, and operators need stability to renew their fleets. December’s performance was worrying, as was the overall drop in fleet purchases.
“Business confidence depends on government providing the right conditions, which first and foremost means taking a ‘No Deal’ Brexit off the table. We have a strong and competitive commercial vehicle market in the UK, one that can flourish in the right economic climate.”
Fleet buying cycles, model renewal and business uncertainty have all had an impact on the market, but the December decline represents more than half of the full-year decline of 4,824 units.
Small (less than 2.0t) and medium-sized vans (2.0-2.5t) bore the brunt of the overall annual downturn, with full-year registrations of 25,070 and 50,956 accounting for 14.7% and 7.4% drops respectively.
Larger vans (2.5-3.5t) matched their 2017 performance with 225,891 registered, a 0% change on last year.
Russell Adams, commercial vehicle manager at Lex Autolease, said: “While it was a year of ups and downs, the light commercial vehicle market remained strong in 2018, closely matching the number of new registrations in 2017.
“Despite economic uncertainty, key sectors such as online retail and new build housing are continuing to grow and will fuel the continued uptake of commercial vehicles this year.
“Overall, van operators delivering goods and services need vehicles that are reliable, safe and as environmentally-friendly as possible. Those that have reached the end of their optimum working life can cost businesses as much as £500 per day when they’re off the road due to maintenance.
“The introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in April 2019 is likely to act as an added incentive for businesses to upgrade their commercial vehicle fleets. Recent reports suggest that as many as 80% of vans on UK roads do not meet its minimum requirements.”