New light commercial vehicle (LCV) registrations rose by 2% in January, with 24,029 vehicles sold, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Although the fluctuating nature of fleet renewal often impacts the first month of the year in particular, 2021 opened with the highest volume January since 1990, 10.5% ahead of five-year average.
The good start to the year seen in the van market is in stark comparison to a depressed company car market, which fell by 40% in January, with 35,291 fewer registrations compared to the same month last year.
Nevertheless, although growth is expected for the LCV sector in 2021, SMMT’s latest market outlook has been downgraded to reflect ongoing challenges.
The forecast predicts LCV registrations to rise 17.5% to 343,850 by year end, down from earlier predictions of 375,000 vehicles.
While nearly all van segments experienced a decline, larger vans weighing more than 2.5-3.5 tonnes saw 25.4% growth, which drove overall monthly figures out of the red.
Conversely, registrations of small vans weighing less than or equal to 2.0 tonnes halved (50.1%), the market for medium vans weighing more than 2.0-2.5 tonnes declined by 16.2% and demand for new pickups and 4x4s fell by 25.8% and 30.6% respectively.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT, said: “January’s figures are welcome news, particularly after the difficult past year.
“Although one month’s performance does not full recovery make, the future must involve measures that can deliver long-term changes for the sector if we are to meet ambitious targets and address both climate change and air quality goals.
“The fastest way to do this is by encouraging uptake of the latest low emission vehicles, regardless of fuel type, and business confidence remains vital for this transition.”
Latest SMMT analysis reveals that 2020 recorded the lowest figure for average CO2 emissions derived from LCVs, down 1.8% on 2019 to 162.8g/km.
January 2021 saw a rise of low emission LCVs, with battery electric vehicle (BEV) market share rising to 2.22% with 533 battery plug-in vans joining UK roads.
Meanwhile, 96.4% of all new vehicles registered are powered by diesel, with fleet renewal to the latest Euro standard technologies crucial for a sustainable transition for the sector.
As CO2 emissions targets shift from EU-wide to UK-only from 2021 and demand for heavier vehicles continues to grow, reaching net zero ambitions will depend on creating the right conditions to boost operator confidence.
Sue Robinson, chief executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), which represents franchised commercial vehicle dealers in the UK, said: “These figures indicate a healthy economy and dealers are optimistic about the 2021 LCV market, however there are concerns around consumer confidence, the length of the lockdown and vehicle supply constraints that may hold the market back in the first quarter of this year.”