Truck registrations in the UK soared by an astounding 93% during the final quarter of last year according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Registrations rose 32% in October, 39% in November and a mind-numbing 217% in December with no less than 11,351 trucks registered, the highest month for more than 20 years.
So what drove these huge distortions…? Euro-6.
Heavy trucks registered from January this year have had to comply with the new Euro-6 exhaust emission rules, which can add up to £10,000 to the price of a 6×2 tractor unit. Any of the less-expensive Euro-5 trucks built after 1 October 2013 had to be registered by the end of last year: hence the huge statistical spikes.
Such exaggerated peaks pose manufacturers with massive challenges, according to Iveco UK Managing Director Claudio Zanframundo.
“What we have seen is evidence of just how distorted demand can get when factors outside the norm come into play,” he says. “This has to be something for legislators to take note of.
“The effects of legislation and the demand it inevitably creates can be bad for an industry,” he continues. “It can lead to instability and that’s bad for investment, bad for planning and the last thing you need in a recovering economy.”
Distortions aside, there is no denying that the truck market grew strongly in 2013, hitting 56,218 registrations and up 23% on 2012′s performance.
In the UK, DAF is market leader, Mercedes-Benz is in the number two slot and Scania number three, but it’s not just at the heavy end where there was cause for celebration.
“Indeed, the total commercial vehicle market, including vans, rose 14.7%, making it the best performance in the last five years,” says SMMT Chief Executive, Mike Hawes.
Recent analysis produced by Iveco, and based on SMMT figures, reveals that some sectors of the truck industry rocketed ahead.
Registrations of four-axle rigids typically used as platforms for tippers jumped by a whopping 58.3% suggesting that the construction industry is well on the road to recovery. Sales of all multi-axle rigids soared 39.6%, while tractor units – a key market – rose 32% with Mercedes-Benz, Scania and DAF at numbers one, two and three in this particular pecking order.
Pundits have, for some time, sounded the death knell of the 7.5-tonner thanks to driving licence changes that occurred several years ago – anybody who passed their test after 1 January 1997 does not have an automatic right to drive one. Things may not have been looking up for the truck industry’s humble workhorse, then, but in 2013 registrations rose a creditable 18.9%.
Turning to light commercials, registrations increased by 13.1%, to 271,073, with Ford, Volkswagen (which put in an especially-impressive performance) and Vauxhall taking the number one, two, and three slots, with a familiar gap between market leading Ford and its closest rivals. “Van owners and operators responded positively to the wider economic recovery,” says Hawes.
Some sectors performed especially strongly. Demand for pick-ups rose 20.2%, while vans grossing between 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes shot up by almost 28%.
Light commercials in this latter category are the sort of vehicles bought by plumbers, electricians, central heating engineers and other trades. It’s evidence that while consumers might not be spending money on a new home, they are prepared to spend money making improvements to the one they’ve already got.
It may also suggest that some businesses are downsizing from larger vans as, a little surprisingly perhaps, sales of 3.5-tonners only went up by 6.1%, despite the fact that they are the mainstays of the increasingly-healthy home delivery industry.
Even though 3.5-tonne registration growth was only modest, it remains a healthy sector with more than 67,000 sold. Of these, more than 6,500 were bodied as tippers and almost 4,400 as dropsides, says the SMMT.
Maybe, too, some prospective 3.5-tonne purchasers are hanging on until the new, big-capacity Ford Transit goes on sale later this year.
The big Transit will not be the only light commercial newcomer in 2014, with Ford’s Courier – a rival for the compact Peugeot Bipper and Citroen Nemo among others – and Vauxhall’s latest Vivaro set to be among the new models vying for attention.
“We expect the forthcoming launches of several new vans to deliver further growth,” says Hawes.
Having a dealer network dedicated to light commercials is clearly an advantage when it comes to sales success. VW believes that much of the growth it is currently enjoying can be attributed to its 71 Van Centres spread UK-wide, and not just the strength of its products and their healthy residual values.
Despite all of the publicity they have received, electric light commercials have yet to take off.
There are now more than 1,000 on UK roads, but the full potential of back-to-base driving – the ability to set off from your depot, do a day’s work then go back to the depot and recharge the batteries ready for the following day – has yet to be realised, says the SMMT.
“The market is growing slowly, but even with government’s £8,000 grant to encourage the acquisition of a new electric van, uptake is still low.”
Swinging back around to the rollercoaster truck market, the advent of Euro-6 and the massive pull-forward in Euro-5 sales is likely to result in a 15.6% fall in registrations in 2014 predicts Iveco. “Trucks that would normally have been ordered this year have already been built and delivered and that is going to result in reduced order entry in quarter one,” he says.
Overall, 2014 is expected to be a good year for the light end of the market with SMMT forecasting a 4% rise in van volumes. Despite total truck volumes expected to be down on 2013 due to a quieter first half of 2014, the market is expected to stabilise during the third and fourth quarters.