Van sales plummeted 54 per cent in March to their lowest level in 20 years as the market suffered the early effects of the coronavirus crisis.
UK light commercial vehicle (LCV) registrations were just over 30,000 as lockdowns began to impact dealers’ ability to deliver.
Demand fell in double digits across most segments, with only the relatively small 4×4 sector managing to post an increase of 18.4 per cent.
It was a disaster for the rest of the sector, though, with pick-ups and smaller vans under two tonnes recording 57.8 per cent and 64 per cent falls respectively.
Vans between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes – which make up the majority of registrations – were down by 56 per cent, with 17,925 registered.
Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: ‘The commercial vehicle market is a barometer for the wider economy so March’s decline to the lowest level in more than 20 years is stark evidence of a crisis of truly unprecedented proportions.
‘There is no doubt that demand will recover once we overcome the challenge that lies ahead, however, given we do not yet know how long this will continue, the government must continue to do everything possible to safeguard the sector so it is ready to help operators and the entire country get back to business when that time comes.
‘Commercial vehicles are keeping supermarket and pharmacy shelves stacked and emergency services running – our reliance on this critical sector is being felt now more so than ever before.’
The SMMT said that during the coronavirus lockdown, commercial vehicles were being put to use to support crucial sectors, from providing support services for NHS trusts, local charities and food banks across the country, to sharing capacity to ensure grocery and pharmaceutical sectors can keep up with demand.