The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has put much of the growth of van traffic down to the rise in internet shopping.

Despite the market showing signs of slowing down – registrations dropped for four consecutive months from February through to May – the trade association’s commercial vehicle manager, Nigel Base, has claimed demand is still much higher than “anyone would have predicted five years ago.”

Currently, there are 4.2m vans on UK roads, but the SMMT is expecting this number to rise to 4.5m LCVs “over the medium term”, while it added these vans are getting bigger, carrying more and covering more miles.

The SMMT’s claims go against research by the RAC Foundation which suggested that fewer than 4% of the UK’s LCV parc is involved in delivering parcels.

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 goods to businesses or other consumers.

Despite the small number of vans 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.