The growth of online shopping and the subsequent need to deliver goods is not wholly responsible for the booming new and used van markets, new research has found.
According to data from the RAC Foundation, fewer than 4% of the estimated 3.7 million LCVs on UK roads are involved in delivering goods.
Steve Gooding, RAC Foundation director, speculated the rise in registrations could also be down to small businesses buying LCVs and using them for both work and leisure.
“The question of why there are so many more vans is still a puzzle. Could it be the product of more small businesses and sole traders investing in vans and then using them both as a work tool and for family transport?” he said.
Last year, around 2.7bn packages were delivered in the UK, with around 1.8bn of these accounting for business-to-consumer deliveries – mainly e-commerce, while the RAC Foundation said a further 700m parcels were sent by businesses to businesses.
The remaining balance comes from consumers sending things to businesses or other consumers.
Despite the small number of vans being involved in carrying online shopping orders, the RAC Foundation claimed they cover a “disproportionately high number of miles – around 10% of the total distance covered by all vans.
However, professor Alan Braithwaite of LCP Consulting, which conducted the analysis on behalf of the RAC Foundation, said the growth in online shopping was helping to limit traffic growth in general, as people are using their vehicles less to go shopping.
He cited statistics from the 2015 National Travel Survey, which said that in England since 2002 the number of personal shopping trips made by car has fallen by 14%, while the distance travelled on these journeys has reduced by 19%.
Looking to the future, Braithwaite predicted B2C parcel volumes – currently increase at a rate of 9% a year – are set to grow at a slower rate of 6% within the next four years, as click and collect options become more favourable.
He also speculated that vans could act as a stepping stone to a world in which micro collection hubs, drones and robots dominate.
“Plenty of people suggest the surge in van traffic is down to our rapidly deepening love affair with online shopping. But this research suggests that sofa surfers might be helping to ease our traffic congestion woes,” said Gooding.