New plug-in LCV registrations erode diesel dominance in EU

31 October 2023


The EU’s commercial vehicle market continues to be led by diesel, but this position is coming under threat. Plug-in models, including battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), are starting to slowly erode the dominant powertrain’s market share.

Figures released by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) show that a total of 1,080,069 vans were registered between January and September 2023. This equates to year-on-year growth of 14.3%. Meanwhile, new trucks between 3.5-tonnes and 16-tonnes saw a larger surge in deliveries, with the market up 23%.

However, compared to the pre-COVID-19 levels of 2019, the van market has shrunk by 13.1%. For medium and heavy trucks, the market remains buoyant, as vehicle deliveries were up by 4.1% compared to the first three quarters of 2019.

Plug-in vans surge

The positive result in the van sector was driven by double-digit growth in three of the bloc’s biggest markets, with Spain posting the biggest increase of these regions, up 20.5%. Germany saw growth of 18.2%, while Italy increased registrations by 16.7%. France had a more modest increase of 6.8%, although the country does have the biggest market for vans in the EU, with 274,242 registrations in total.

In a sector dominated by fleet sales, especially those of logistics companies, the fuel-type split is unsurprisingly led by diesel, as it has been for a number of years. The powertrain offers operators shorter refuelling downtime, and the ability to travel longer distances, which is critical in a market where timing is crucial.

Diesel grew its registrations tally in the first three quarters of the year by 9.1%. Although the 285,027 deliveries in the third quarter was the weakest performance of the year so far, it still equated to year-on-year growth of 14.9%. France was the only one of the big four markets to see diesel van registrations drop, with a decline of 4.1%. This was offset by strong performances in Italy (up 21.7%), Spain (up 18.4%) and Germany (up 13.5%).

However, this offset was not enough to prevent the fuel type from losing some of its market share. While still in a commanding lead, diesel saw its grasp on the new-van market fall from 86.9% between January and September last year, to 82.9% in the same period of 2023.

Plug-in vehicles look to be responsible for eroding diesel’s lead. ACEA figures do not break down fuel types into BEVs and PHEVs, so it is unclear how each powertrain is performing. Yet plug-in models increased registrations by 91.4% across the first nine months of the year, with 78,899 units taking to the roads across the bloc.

All EU markets, except Cyprus (down 50% with just 11 units), experienced positive plug-in results in the year to date. France was the main driver, with 20,196 registrations up 102.2% compared to the same period last year. Coupled with the decline in diesel registrations, it appears France is starting to embrace electrified technology in the commercial vehicle market at a faster rate than other markets.

While Spain saw greater growth, with plug-in figures up 106.7%, this came with significantly lower volumes, just 6,967 units. Italy saw plug-in registrations increase 76.9% (6,030 units) and Germany improved by 67.1% (17,354 units).

This means that plug-in vehicles held a 7.3% market share, up from 4.4% at the same point last year. The improvement moves the powertrain technology into second place on the fuel-type chart, overtaking petrol. The fuel type also saw registrations improve, with a 39.6% rise in unit deliveries, however, its 66,275 total puts it firmly into third place, with a market share of 6.1%.

Hybrid vans, made up of full and mild hybrids, saw year-on-year growth of 2.2% between January and September, holding a 2.3% market share. The ‘other’ category, made up of fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and those powered by liquified petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas, saw registrations up 35.6% with 14,379 units, taking a 1.1% market share.

Diesel dominates trucks

While there are signs of the market moving from diesel to plug-in technology in the van market, the truck sector, with vehicles between 3.5-tonnes and 16-tonnes, is converting at a much slower pace.

Diesel remains the clear leader across the first nine months of the year, with registrations up 22%. Germany helped this growth with its figures up 29.7%, followed by Spain (up 22.1%), Italy (up 17.9%) and France (up 14%). This meant diesel held a 95.5% share of the new-truck market between Q1 and Q3.

The plug-in truck market is still developing, but its pace has quickened in recent years. This was reflected in the 321.7% growth observed in the nine-month period, with 3,918 units registered across the EU. However, 65% of these registrations came from just two countries, with Germany seeing 1,516 units take to its roads, and the Netherlands delivering 1,032 plug-in trucks to buyers. Other markets lagged some way behind, with France the next largest, thanks to 302 registrations.

Therefore, plug-in trucks only took a 1.5% market share. However, thanks to the impressive registration growth, this is up 1.1% compared to the same point in 2022 (0.4%). Yet plug-in trucks were beaten by the ‘others’ category, which held 2.9% of the market thanks to its 7,767 units registered (up 9.9%).

Finally, while hybrid trucks grew their registrations by 583%, this only equated to 321 units, with the technology holding 0.1% of the market. Petrol saw registrations rise 7.1%, but the 106 units was the lowest tally of all powertrain types, meaning it held a small 0.04% market share.