EU light-commercial vehicle market ends 2021 with a further decline

26 January 2022

With just under 127,000 new registrations, the EU’s light-commercial vehicle (LCV) market contracted by 18% last month compared with December 2019, according to the latest figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA). This marked the third consecutive month of double-digit declines, compared to 2019, and culminated in 1.56 million registrations in 2021, equating to a fall of 10.6%.

Medium and heavy-commercial vehicles, with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) over 3.5 tonnes, fared better last month. Accordingly, the whole commercial-vehicle (CV) market was down 12.2% compared to December 2019. This is a moderate improvement on the downturns in October and November, but there were still 11.2% fewer CV registrations in the EU than in 2019.

Nevertheless, the EU’s passenger-car sector was far more afflicted by COVID-19 and semiconductor shortages in 2021, ending the year 25.5% down on 2019.

Lockdowns dominated 2020, making year-on-year comparisons with 2021 too volatile. So, Autovista24 compares last year’s figures against 2019. This provides a firmer baseline, removing the potential for wild comparative deviations, but reporting of 2022 figures will return to year-on-year comparisons.

Further downturns in leading markets

All the EU’s major LCV markets contracted again last month, as in October and November. Spain endured the greatest decline, with fewer than 11,000 registrations, equating to a 33.8% fall compared to December 2019. Full-year registrations barely exceeded 150,000 units, down 29.4% on two years earlier. Spain’s wider CV market performed slightly better, contracting by 30.3% in December and 28.2% overall in 2021.

There was a downturn recorded in Italy but not on a grand scale. The country reported just over 16,400 LCV registrations in the final month of the year, falling 17.8% compared to December 2019, but full-year 2021 was just 2.5% down on 2019 and the entire CV market was only 2% smaller than in 2019. 

France and Germany’s LCV markets fared slightly better in December, but still posted respective double-digit declines of 12.5% and 10.2%. Total registrations in 2021 suffered more than in Italy, however, declining by 9.8% and 12.9% respectively. Their wider CV markets contracted by 11% and 1.6% in December, and 2021 registrations fell 10.7% and 14.3% respectively.

Outside of the EU, the UK registered over 29,000 LCV registrations in December 2021, up 6.7% compared to two years ago and ‘the strongest Christmas month since 2015,’ noted Andy Picton, chief commercial vehicle editor at Glass’s (part of Autovista Group). In total, 355,380 LCVs were registered in 2021, up 21.4% on 2020. ‘However, this figure was 2.8% down on the 365,778 vehicles registered in 2019, and 3.1% down on the 366,554-unit 2015-2019 average,’ Picton added. The entire UK commercial-vehicle market barely recorded growth last month and was 6.9% smaller in 2021 than in 2019.

Positivity elsewhere

Despite the double-digit decline across the EU in December, several LCV markets expanded compared to two years ago, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Romania. The greatest growth rates last month, however, were reported in Ireland and Slovakia, which both expanded by almost 80% compared to December 2019.

Similarly, five EU member states recorded gains in full-year 2021, compared to 2019 – namely Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, and Poland. LCV registrations in Austria and Greece even rose by more than 30%.

The same five countries, as well as Latvia, also enjoyed growth in their total volume of CV registrations in 2021. Unsurprisingly, Austria and Greece were again the strongest performers, expanding by 26% and 30.6% respectively.

Supply shortages further benefit RVs

Whereas CV and passenger-car markets continue to be buffeted by a resurgence of COVID-19, the LCV sector has benefitted from the surge in online retailing and the accompanying higher demand for home deliveries. This has led to a notable rise in residual values (RVs) of LCVs across Europe. This trend is expected to continue as the semiconductor shortage has also hit van production, albeit with a lagged effect compared to passenger cars.

As with passenger cars, the expectation is that supply bottlenecks will not ease until the second half of 2022. As the backlog builds up, businesses and private operators will continue to face increased delivery lead times, which will translate into unfulfilled orders and high residual values in the coming months, if not for the whole year.