In the rolling year from January 2011 the market was up 12.6% to 257,337 units.

The fall in light commercial vehicle volumes contrasted with a robust start to the year for truck registrations. The SMMT said the van market had opened 2012 on a “cautious note” with registrations well short of the 17,000 it had forecast for January.

However, the trade body pointed out that the monthly figure was compared with January 2011, when the market recovered strongly – up nearly 50% on the same month in 2010 –and added: “If the year pans out as expected van registrations will be stable in very weak economic and uneasy financial settings.”

SMMT boss Paul Everitt said: “Government support for business will be key to maintaining market stability. If confidence can be maintained through the year, we should see growth in 2013.”

Sales in all sectors of the market were down in January, with the largest segment, heavy vans, down 16.8% to 7794 units.