Generally seen as a decent indicator of the UK’s economic health, the success of the light commercial vehicle market last year was a welcome return to form after half a decade of new vehicle registrations being a shadow of their former selves.
In 2013, a total of 271,073 LCVs were registered, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, a figure 13.1% up on the 239,641 that were registered in 2012. That year can so far be seen as a blip, as in the two years prior to that the market had been in an upward trajectory from the low of just over 185,000 recorded in 2009. The turnaround isn’t complete: a pre-recession 2007 market totalled something near 340,000 units, but it’s certainly a good sign. “Van owners and operators responded positively to the wider economic recovery,” comments SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.
Registrations actually grew faster than the larger market of new car registrations in 2013, although truck sales dwarfed them both in terms of percentage growth. Heavily influenced by the shift to Euro6 emissions legislation in heavy trucks, the sector enjoyed a 23.0% increase last year, but that market is less that a quarter of the size of the light commercial vehicle sector.
Predictably, Ford topped the chart for best-selling manufacturer, making it 48 years in a row, although the brand did record the smallest growth of the top five LCV manufacturers at 9.1%, meaning its market share dropped by nearly a whole percentage point from 26.0% at the end of 2012 to 25.1% 12 months later. It’s an interesting time for Ford’s commercial vehicle line-up, as 2013 was the first full year of What Van?’s twice Van of the Year, the Transit Custom, while the Connect and full-size Transit were both on their final full year before replacement, which may account for some of the reduction in market share. The introduction of the new Transit Courier baby van this year will take the brand into a new market, which may help the new models in restoring some forward momentum to the UK’s dominant brand.
The top three maintained the same order as 2012, with Volkswagen consolidating the second place in the UK market it grabbed from Vauxhall in 2012.
A bad year for Peugeot’s LCV registrations, which the company puts down to a large fleet deal not being renewed, saw it slip two places down the table to sixth position, with Mercedes-Benz and Citroen the beneficiaries. Mercedes gained from the first year of sales of its Citan to climb a place to fourth, but registrations of the small van were modest at well under 2000 units, while the Sprinter enjoyed some strong growth. Citroen was the biggest improver of the top five manufacturers thanks to a 25.1% increase in registrations, moving it up one spot from sixth.
But the most impressive performance overall was Fiat, which moved up two places to eighth, passing Nissan and Toyota in the process. The climb was entirely down to registrations of the Doblo Cargo increasing by more than 200%, something Fiat claims was down to strong corporate and retail demand, rather than any large individual deals.
Further down the table, Mini’s return to LCVs saw nearly 700 Clubvans find homes in the vehicle’s first full year on sale, and Chinese budget pick-up brand Great Wall also enjoyed growth in its first full year active in the UK market. At the tail of the top 20 LCV brands, Korean firm Ssangyong made an entrance, replacing Mitsubishi Fuso, which it outpointed by 20 units.

Model professionals
It’s no surprise that the Transit dominated the UK market from a model line perspective last year, especially as, on top of the large version being imminently replaced, the old medium-sector model was still on sale as a cheaper alternative alongside the new Transit Custom that replaces it.
The three chasing the Transit remained in the same order, with Mercedes’ Sprinter, the Vauxhall Vivaro and the VW Transporter all enjoying growth well ahead of the market average to cement their positions.
The Citroen Berlingo was the big mover within the top 10, passing both the Volkswagen Caddy and sister brand Peugeot’s Partner, which means it was 2013’s biggest-selling light van. The Partner was the only model in the top 10 to actually record a sales fall on 2012, dropping registrations by 10.4% in a market up 13.1%.
One place below the Partner was the new Ford Transit Custom, entering the chart in eighth after a first full year on sale, with expectations of rising up the chart in the next 12 months.
As mentioned earlier, Fiat’s Doblo Cargo had a massive year, with registrations going from 2666 in 2012 to 8211 last year, propelling our Light Van of the Year from nowhere into the top 10.
The only other new entry into the top 25 light commercial vehicle models for 2013 was Isuzu’s D-max, benefitting from a first full year on sale since it replaced the Rodeo as Isuzu’s pick-up offering.
Other models enjoying a successful 2013 included the Mitsubishi L200 and Ford Ranger, showing the renewed appeal of the pick-up market, while the Peugeot Boxer negated some of the impact of a reduction in volume for its smaller sibling the Partner. Nissan’s What Van? Award-winning NV200 continued to grow its volume, if not actually moving up the chart as yet.
Vauxhall’s UK-built Vivaro was the top medium van in its final year before a replacement, which is due on UK roads this September, and the market-leading Transit was obviously the top-selling large van. Toyota’s Hilux led the pick-up sector, although rivals below it, notably the Mitsubishi L200, had a stronger year to renew the competition.
The dramatic growth of last year isn’t expected to continue into 2014, with the SMMT predicting a market up 2.5% this year and a further 1.8% increase in 2015. If that comes off, it would put the industry within touching distance of the 2008 figure that LCV registrations haven’t got close to since.
“One area we do see room to grow is LCVs,” declares the SMMT’s Hawes. “We’ve got a situation with much room to grow – and the same factors that affect fleet and business give room to grow.” That means rising economic confidence leading businesses to commit to replacing vehicles where they may have delayed in recent years.
Plus, 2014 is an interesting time from a product perspective. “We expect the forthcoming launches of several new light commercial vans to deliver further growth in this important sector,” continues Hawes. These include the new 2.0-tonne Ford Transit, Transit Connect and Transit Courier trio, Vauxhall’s new Vivaro and its Renault Traffic sibling, and revisions to the likes of the large van offerings from Renault, Peugeot, Fiat and Citroen.
Last year was a welcome return to form for the LCV market, and the signs all point to further, if less pronounced, growth for the next couple of years.