Electric vans at Vauxhall's plant in Ellesmere Port. Picture credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA ImagesElectric vans at Vauxhall's plant in Ellesmere Port. Picture credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images


New van sales are encouraging but there’s still lots to do over electric adoption

We take a look back at how the commercial vehicle sector fared in 2023 and find out the challenges still facing it

Time 8:16 am, January 29, 2024

The UK new van market returned close to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, with 341,455 new light commercial vehicles (LCVs) registered, according to the latest figures published by the SMMT – just 6.9% behind total sales in 2019, the last full year before the Covid-19 outbreak.

But while electric van sales increased by 21.9% to 20,253 units, the overall penetration of EVs in the van market remains way behind the 2024 government mandate of 10% of new vans being electric, with just 5.9% of new vans being pure EVs in 2023.

The increase in battery-powered vans is in line with a similar 21% increase in overall van sales – 59,316 more units than in 2022.

The Ford Transit Custom came out on top with 40,865 registrations. Add 28,280 sales of larger Transits and the Ford LCV was not only the UK’s best-selling van, but also the most popular new vehicle overall, outselling the Puma SUV by almost 19,000 units.

The largest vans (those weighing between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes) were the most popular, rising by 9.4% to 228,442 registrations – with these models representing 66.9% of all new van registrations.

The largest growth in volume was for medium-sized vans (weighing between 2 and 2.5 tonnes), surging by 78.4% to 57,992 units.

Demand for pick-ups and 4x4s also rose, by 38.7% and 127.7% to 41,003 and 8,063 units respectively, but the smallest vans (weighing equal to or less than two tonnes) saw a fall of 23.7% to 5,955 units, the top seller in that sector being the Citroen Berlingo.

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘Rising demand for new vans in every month of 2023 – along with record uptake of battery-electric vans – is positive news for the UK, given the vital role of these vehicles in keeping businesses and the economy moving.’

But while new van sales might be encouraging as an economic indicator, it’s quite clear that there’s still a lot of work to do in order to encourage wholesale adoption of electric vans.

The UK government has mandated that at least 10% of total van sales for 2024 must be electric, but the market fell short in 2023 by more than 14,000 units as operators continue to be reluctant to adopt EVs within the current charging infrastructure.

‘If 2024 is to be the year of the electric van, investment in chargepoint infrastructure is mission-critical – bringing with it the successful green transition and economic growth the nation needs,’ Hawes added.

Paul Hollick

Paul Hollick, chairman of the Association of Fleet Professionals, says better access to forecourt chargers is one of the challenges facing electric van drivers that need to be overcome

Meanwhile, the Association of Fleet Professionals said that progressing zero-emissions van deployment was top of the fleet agenda for 2024, but chairman Paul Hollick said the issue was proving difficult for some businesses, with several tricky practical and strategic issues needing to be overcome.

‘The view of most van fleets is that electrification, which obviously forms the backbone of the move towards zero emissions, is going to be very much an incremental process because of compromises imposed by the current technology when it comes to key areas such as payload, range and charging.

‘Across our membership, the feeling is that these issues can be resolved but that it will take time and a wide range of strategies will need to be applied.’

The most immediate problem to tackle, he added, was resolving 4.25-tonne electric van derogation, which has been beset by a degree of confusion that had caused many fleets to cancel or delay orders.

‘We’re talking to the relevant official bodies about this and are hopeful that workable solutions will soon appear.

‘Being able to practically operate 4.25-tonne electric panel vans is central to many fleets’ zero-emission plans, and this is something that is very much acting as a roadblock to progress.’

At present, drivers on a standard licence can only operate vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes, but the additional weight of EV batteries makes this impractical in the large van market.

Charging off-site is also an issue.

‘We’ve been talking to charging companies about better access to forecourt chargers,’ added Hollick.

‘The bays are often not big enough or aren’t designed to accommodate light commercial vehicles, and this is proving a major hindrance to fleets that want to use electric vans.

‘Like on-street charging, this is not a problem that will be solved overnight, but we are hopeful that progress will be made on both these fronts in 2024.’

This feature appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 191 – along with news, views, reviews, interviews and much more! Read and download it for FREE here!

Pictured at top are electric vans at Vauxhall’s plant in Ellesmere Port. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images

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