UK sees deceptively positive new-LCV market in February as de-fleeting increases

13 March 2023

The UK’s positive new light-commercial vehicle (LCV) market trend continued in February, while used-model de-fleeting increased. Andy Picton, chief commercial vehicle editor at Glass’s (part of Autovista Group) examines last month’s trends.

The UK’s new LCV market grew for the second consecutive month in February, rising 8.5% year on year to 17,540 units. So far, 2023 looks to be off to a good start with 39,638 units registered in the first two months. This reflects a 17.5% year-on-year increase – up from 33,731 units in January and February 2022.

Registrations of vans below 2 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW) rose 5.2% to 346 units, while vans between 2 and 2.5 tonnes GVW fell 16.5% to 3,361 units. Vans between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes GVW made up over 69.1% of all LCVs registered in the month – marking a 14% rise (12,125 units). The pickup segment performed the best, with registrations jumping 42.3% to 1,563 units.

Ford was the dominant brand in the UK LCV market in February, with five of their models finishing in the top 10. The Ford Transit Custom continued performing well, taking the top spot last month with 2,573 units. The Ford Transit came second (1,529 units), the Transit Connect fifth (897 units), and the Ranger eighth (852 units).

Renault claimed sixth and ninth respectively with the Trafic (877 units) and the Master (672 units). The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter finished in seventh (872 units) and the Volkswagen Transporter tenth (634 units). Across January and February, the Ford Transit Custom remains the best-selling model, with 5,360 units compared to the second-place Ford Transit with 2,821 registrations.

Clearing a backlog

Although registrations in February were the strongest since 1998 according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), supply-chain challenges are expected to continue hampering the industry throughout 2023.

Furthermore, the current rise in registrations is due to the fulfilment of orders placed many months ago, and the clearing of the subsequent backlog. This effect is masking the LCV market’s true condition, and only once this build-up clears will it become apparent whether a recovery is actually taking place.

While registrations are expected to grow in 2023, three of the UK’s best-selling models are due to be replaced, with new production lines and phased launches complicating deliveries. Manufacturing difficulties will ease as the year goes on, but energy and raw-material costs will remain an issue for both manufacturers and suppliers. Therefore, a full recovery of the country’s new LCV market could be at least twelve months away.

There was also a sizeable 44.5% decline in battery-electric van registrations in February, with 996 units registered, down 745 units on twelve months ago. Year-to-date, all-electric van registrations are down 18%, with a market share of 4.9% (7.1% in 2022).

But the SMMT appears optimistic. ‘With more new models set to hit the market in the coming months, growth is expected to resume, with the latest market outlook anticipating electrified van registrations to rise by 64.5% to some 28,000 units this year,’ it said. However, for this to become a reality, a dedicated and suitable LCV charging network must be implemented.

More mileage

The age and dynamics of used vans are playing a major role in the wholesale market. Stock is entering the market at a healthy rate, as fleet and leasing companies begin de-fleeting ‘pandemic-worn’ vehicles. This correlates with the surge in new-vehicle registrations during January and February.

Nearly half of all vehicles in the used-LCV marketplace have mileages exceeding 100,000 miles (160,934km), alongside a general lack of late-year stock and variety. Average sales prices have increased 2.5% since the beginning of the year but have fallen 9.7% since last February, during the worst of the stock shortages.

As manufacturers continue to struggle with intermittent deliveries, volumes entering the used market will also remain sporadic, with prices staying high for the best examples. The introduction of further clean-air zones during 2023, including the expanded ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) around London will see demand remain high for Euro 6-compliant diesel vehicles.

De-fleets increasing

Glass’s recorded increased numbers of de-fleets again last month, with sales up 4.7% versus January. This increase was 5% lower than in February last year. Although the market remains robust, average sales prices decreased by 3.4% on January and by 9.7% on February 2022.

As with previous months, the most popular used segment was the medium van. These models accounted for 38.2% of all auction sales. Once again, 4×4 stock was the least popular but attracted the strongest average sales prices of £13,802 (€15,639), £288 higher than in January.

The average age of vehicles sold during February increased by 4.2 months to 82.2 months. The average mileage of those vehicles sold increased by 2.5% to 84,188 miles, nearly 3,650 miles higher than 12 months ago. Large panel vans covered more distance than any other model type, averaging 93,550 miles, down 485 miles on January.

First-time conversion rates for February rose nearly 5% to 85.7% overall, with all segments recording an increase. A shortage of small vans meant these models returned the best conversion rate, at 89.3% (up 3.4% on January). Medium vans recorded 86.1% (up 6%), 4×4 pickups 85.3% (up 6.8%) and large panel vans 79.8% (up 1.4%).

Used vehicles observed for sale in the wholesale market increased by 1.3% last month to nearly 40,000 units. Almost half (49.4%) of all vehicles on sale were valued at £20,000 or more, while 33.7% were on sale for between £20,000 and £10,000. At the lower end of the market, 12.7% of all vehicles were on sale for between £10,000 and £5,000. Those on sale for less than £5,000 increased slightly from 3.9% to 4.2% of the overall market.