New light commercial vehicle sales fell by 4.2% year-on-year in January to 20,475 units, according to the Society of Motor manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The steepest decline was in the small van segment, covering car-derived and compact vans weighing up to 2.0-tonnes, which dropped 28.9% to 1,482 registrations.

The 2.0 to 2.5-tonne weight bracket, covering light vans, was the only sector to record a rise during the month – up by a marginal 1.2% to 3,206 units.

Sales in the crucial 2.5 to 3.5-tonne weight range, covering big-selling medium and large vans, dipped by just 1.8% to 12,392 while the hitherto expanding pick-up sector suffered a rare fall – down by 2.3% to 3,359 compared to the same month in 2017.

The niche 4×4 van segment, meanwhile, plummeted 33% with only 36 models finding homes in January.

SMMT boss Mike Hawes claimed the turbulent political and economic climate meant the sales downturn was not unexpected.

“With business confidence continuing to be affected by economic and political uncertainty, this decline comes as no surprise,” he said.

“Despite this, the UK van market remains at a very high level and, although purchasing patterns are cyclical they do fluctuate with business confidence, so we continue to look to the government to improve conditions so the sector can grow.”

Ford accounted for four out of the top five best-selling models in January with the Transit Custom, Transit, Ranger and Transit Connect. Only the VW Transporter, at number three, interrupted the blue oval brand’s dominance.

Despite this market leader Ford saw sales decline by 7.0% in January to 7,142 units – outselling second-placed Volkswagen, which grew sales by 1.7%, by three to one.

Elsewhere in the top 10 Peugeot, Mercedes and Renault enjoyed strong growth but Citroen, Vauxhall and Nissan saw volumes decrease.