New LCV registrations surged resoundingly back to pre-recession levels in 2014, hitting the highest total since 2007 as confidence returned to the UK business sector, as Paul Barker reports
The UK market for light commercial vehicles returned to strength in style last year, as an 18.7% growth saw the market hit heights not seen since 2007, with 321,686 new vehicles up to 3.5t registered during 2014, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
That compares with 271,073 in 2013, itself the strongest year in five for the LCV market, a sector that acts as a barometer for the strength of the economic recovery due to companies not investing in new vehicles if they’re not confident about the future of their business. “There is an underlying business confidence to invest, and we’re still working through some of the pent-up demand and backlog from where people delayed purchases,” the SMMT’s chief executive Mike Hawes tells What Van? “Plus the diversity of the market seems to be getting ever-greater; people’s needs are changing and manufacturers are offering flexibility of choice.”
Top of the pile
There’s absolutely no surprise to see Ford top the manufacturer’s chart, and if nothing outrageous happens during 2015, this time next year the brand will have completed a phenomenal half a century at the top of the light commercial vehicle table. The brand was one of only three in the top 10 with above- average growth figures, recording a 21.3% increase on 2013 thanks to an influx of new models – Transit, Transit Connect and Transit Courier – and its lead at the top increased by more than 10,000 units over Volkswagen. At 42,281 units, that lead means Ford registered over double the number of vehicles of its nearest challenger, and the firm accounted for in excess of a quarter of all of the new light commercial vehicles in the UK last year.
Maintaining second place despite a market share that dropped from 13.6% in 2013 to last year’s 12.5% was VW, which claimed supply problems on its two biggest- selling models – Transporter and Caddy. Those two are both being replaced during 2015, so it will be interesting to see what that does to registrations. Fortunately for VW, third-placed Vauxhall’s growth was only 0.7 percentage points better at 9.7%, so it didn’t significantly close in on a top two spot.
In fact it was in serious danger of being overtaken by Peugeot, which had a hugely impressive 2014, growing by 50.1% to get within 752 units of Vauxhall and jumping back above Mercedes and Citroen, the two brands it slid behind at the 2013 year-end. The growth of over 11,500 units can be pretty evenly split between the Partner and Boxer models, the latter facelifted last year, and left Peugeot 1403 units ahead of fifth-placed Mercedes which, like Citroen, recorded growth in line with the market.
Beneath the top six, there were some varied results despite places seven-14 remaining the same as 2013. Renault recorded the biggest growth after Peugeot, with a 40.0% increase taking its market share from 2013’s 4.8% to 5.6% last year. Nissan, Iveco, Great Wall and Mini were the only four of the top 20 brands to record a reduction in volume last year. Nissan claims supply problems with the NV200 light van, which dropped out of the top 25 models from its position of 22 in 2013, while Iveco switched to a new Daily model towards the end of 2014 and Mini withdrew from the LCV market thanks to production ending on the Clubman passenger car that its Clubvan was based on, No word yet on whether the BMW-owned brand’s dabble in light commercials will be repeated. Hyundai, which markets the aging iLoad in the UK, dropped out of the top 20 manufacturers chart, replaced by light truck manufacturer Mitsubishi Fuso’s 178 3.5t units registered last year.
The top 25 LCV models chart saw a change at the top, although it’s a familiar one. The Transit Custom, which in 2014 enjoyed a first full year of sales of the entire range, grew by 229.9% to dethrone the full-size Transit at the head of the chart. In excess of one-in-10 new light commercial registered last year were a Custom.
That jump means last year’s top four all drop a place, with the full-size Transit sliding significantly as the last of the smaller models that made up the Transit nameplate prior to the Custom’s arrival flushed through.
As previously mentioned, Peugeot’s Partner and Boxer models showed strongly, increasing registrations year-on-year by 46.4% and 88.7% respectively, while the other big winners were the Ford Transit Connect, up 120.1% and rising five spots to eighth, and the Renault Trafic, which rose into the top ten with 55.1% growth, despite a new model arriving mid-year.
As mentioned before, claimed supply problems saw the Caddy drop three places to ninth, down by 26.8% in a market up 18.7%, while further down the table the Isuzu D-max’s five-place rise took it past Ford’s Ranger and the Nissan Navara to become the UK’s third-favourite pick-up.
It’s also interesting to note that despite the top six light vans all making the top 15 of the saleschart, neither the Mercedes-Benz Citan nor the Renault Kangoo it is based on make the top 25, which means they managed less than 4000 registrations in a sector where the leading vehicle was Peugeot’s Partner on 16,636.
The biggest area of growth in 2014 was the medium van segment, helped by new product in the form of Vauxhall’s Vivaro and the Renault Trafic, coming on top of the dominance of Ford’s Transit Custom. Vans between 2.0-2.5t increased registrations by 42.0%, while pick-ups and larger 2.5-3.5t vans were both broadly in line with the market. The big loser was the sub-2.0t sector, which was surprisingly down 5.3% in a rapidly growing market.
The sector leaders were Peugeot’s Partner in the light van class, which replaced the now second-placed Berlingo, while in the medium van segment the Transit Custom knocked
the Vauxhall Vivaro and VW Transporter down a spot each to claim number one in class, and Ford also took the heavy van category, with Transit retaining its position again ahead of Mercedes’ Sprinter. The top Pick-up was once more the Toyota Hilux.
There is also a modest van market over 3.5t, where legislation becomes more of an issue so registrations are much lower. A total of 6797 vehicles were registered at this weight level last year, just nine more than in 2013, and Mercedes- Benz topped the chart with 1889, 37 units ahead of Ford. Fiat’s 1313 put it third, and there’s a huge gap below the top three down to Iveco in fourth on 402, just a single registration ahead of Peugeot, which doubled registrations of heavy vans, and 16 in front of VW.
Looking to 2015, the SMMT’s Hawes feels the strength of the light commercial vehicle sector should continue to see it outpace the new car market, due to there being greater chance of pent-up demand still working its way through to purchase. But he also warns that the general election adds a degree of uncertainty, depending on the outcome and future taxation increases or spending cuts as a result.