New LCV registrations crept up by just 1.0% to 375,687 last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, a rise that fell well short of the 15% leap between 2014 and 2015.
Nevertheless, the total still represented a new record and came against the backdrop of Brexit with its consequential fall in the pound and resultant climate of economic uncertainty, not to mention the disruption caused by the transition to Euro6 emissions technology.
Reflecting on the strength of the market, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Another record year for LCVs is great news, even with marginal growth, and underlines the fundamental strength of the sector.”
But he also emphasised the importance of economic stability going forward: “To ensure future fleet investment and growth in this important market, buyers – and manufacturers – are looking for a strong economy and business environment.”
The largest LCV sector – comprising of medium and large vans weighing between 2.5t-3.5t – grew by 4.8% to 232,948 units, while the pick-up market went from strength to strength, growing by 17.6% to 47,715 vehicles.
Other sectors, however, did not fare so well. Registrations of vans weighing below 2.0t, for example, dropped by 14.2% to 36,918 following growth of 8.8% in 2015. Demand for vans weighing 2.0t-2.5t also fell – by 2.5% to 53,767 year-on-year, while the niche 4x4 market more than halved in 2016 to 4,319 units from 2015’s 10,719.
However, the 2016 sales total represented four consecutive years of growth and occurred despite a 10.4% fall in registrations during the month of December to 27,239 units.
Ford, the UK’s dominant automotive manufacturer for more than half a century, sat atop the sales chart again. And the brand actually turned the screw on its nearest rivals to extend its sales lead.
Ford sold 115,554 LCVs in 2016 – a rise of more than 15% from 100,262 the previous year, which itself was a 21.5% increase on 2014. A market share of 30% means that more than one-in-four LCVs sold in the UK wear the Ford badge.
With 49,744 sales chalked up in 2016, the medium-sized Transit Custom is the nation’s most popular van by a considerable margin, notching up almost 20,000 more units than the second-placed model, its big brother the full-size Transit on 29,965.
The Transit regained second spot from the Vauxhall Vivaro, the third best-seller in 2016 on 22,791, a drop from 27,538 the year before.
The Transit Connect light van was the UK’s sixth best-seller last year with 15,494 units shifted, and even the Ford Ranger, number one in the pick-up sector, squeezed into the overall top 10 with 13,292 models finding homes.
Ford’s strong performance in 2016 was not replicated by the other big-selling manufacturers.
Vauxhall, having enjoyed growth of almost 28% in 2015, largely on the back of the Vivaro, although the Movano heavy van also sold well, saw sales slip by 9.6% to 37,727 last year, with only the Movano recording growth.
The Luton-based brand remained in third place overall behind VW, which consolidated its position with a 5.3% rise in registrations to 45,358.
The new-generation Transporter medium van made a solid start with an 11.8% rise to 21,526 in its first full year on the market. However, VW will be confident of putting more space between itself and its nearest challengers when its new Crafter, built in-house following the termination of the agreement with Mercedes, which saw the old model overshadowed and outsold by the Sprinter that it was based upon, comes to market in May. VW may even have ambitions of closing the gap on Ford.
Peugeot remained in fourth place, despite a 1.5% dip in sales year-on-year to 33,187 units, just ahead of Mercedes, which remained almost static on 32,029 – selling just 142 more units than it did in 2015. Its big-selling Sprinter lost ground while its moderate-selling Vito grew volume. The brand has stated in recent years that it has its sites set on becoming the UK’s second biggest seller of LCVs, but this target appears a long way off – although the introduction of a pick-up truck in 2018 may help its cause somewhat.
Citroen was tucked in behind Mercedes again, despite a 7.8% drop in volume, and next up was rival French brand Renault, just 2,000 sales behind on 25, 773 – a modest 1.5% rise next to last year’s 39.6% jump.
Apart from Ford, the other big winner among the major players was Nissan. Its sales rocketed by 35% to 15,728 with the Navara pick-up leading the charge on 9,574, up by more than 50% year-on-year. Nissan leapfrogged Fiat Professional into eighth place, while Fiat’s sales fell 13% to 10,185 in 2016, a decrease that followed a 7.3% dip in the previous 12 months.
The final place in the top 10 was taken by Mitsubishi replacing Land Rover – no surprise there as the latter has stopped production of the Defender – but eyebrows may have been raised at Toyota trailing behind in 11th spot with sales of just 7,275, resulting in a 28% downturn year-on-year.