UK drives September improvement in European light-commercial vehicle market

27 October 2022

The EU light-commercial vehicle (LCV) market endured a further, albeit slightly less pronounced, double-digit decline last month. But growth in the UK drove a healthier improvement in the wider European region.

LCV registrations contracted by 11.3% year on year in September, with fewer than 106,000 new units taking to the EU’s roads, according to the latest data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA). This marks a subtle improvement on the 12.1% downturn in August and there was one more working day in some EU markets that month, including Germany. Accordingly, Autovista24 estimates that the market decline has narrowed from 14% to 11%.

Nevertheless, the persistent double-digit contractions of the LCV market contrast with the second consecutive month of growth for EU new-car registrations in September. This points to the LCV sector still being more adversely affected by the pre-existing semiconductor shortages and additional supply challenges resulting from the war in Ukraine and COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

Outside of the EU, LCV registrations in the combined EFTA markets of Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland posted year-on-year growth, albeit of just 0.6%. Moreover, the UK’s new LCV market rose 10.8% in September, marking the first month of growth in 2022.

This performance needs to be put into perspective as last September’s registrations were the lowest for the month since the 2009 recession. Nevertheless, it means the Europe-wide fall in LCV registrations improved to 6.5% last month from the 13.7% drop in August.

Any recovery ‘some way off’

Of the four major EU LCV markets, France and Italy suffered double-digit year-on-year declines last month, whereas Germany and Spain contracted by a comparatively healthy 7.2% and 3.5%, respectively.

All four markets have contracted by more than 10% in the year-to-date. Spain has fared the worst, with 86,852 registrations equating to a year-on-year downturn of 27.7% in the first three quarters of 2022.

Austria’s LCV market has suffered the greatest losses so far in 2022, contracting by 63.2% compared to the same period last year. Only two EU member states have posted positive results – Cyprus (6.4%) and Slovakia (0.2%).

Across the EU, 21.2% fewer light-commercial vehicles have been registered than in January to September 2021, improving slightly on the 22.3% decline in the first eight months of the year. The UK has performed slightly better in the year to date, with 20.1% fewer LCVs registered than in the same period last year. Accordingly, the overall European market contracted by 20.9% in the first three quarters of 2022, compared to the 22.6% fall through July.

Supply bottlenecks should ease throughout the remainder of 2022, albeit with a more positive impact in the passenger-car sector. However, rising inflation, interest rates, and energy costs are adding operational costs for businesses, which will invariably impact demand.

‘Any recovery of the new LCV market remains some way off,’ commented Andy Picton, chief commercial vehicle editor at Glass’s (part of Autovista Group), about the UK market. This sentiment applies to the entire European LCV sector.

‘Strong rebound in truck registrations’

In contrast to the EU’s beleaguered LCV sector, medium and heavy commercial vehicles (MHCVs), with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) over 3.5 tonnes, posted year-on-year growth of 18.3% in September. ‘Despite a strong rebound in truck registrations, overall commercial-vehicle sales contracted by 6.6% to 133,873 units, dragged down by the negative performance in the van segment,’ ACEA stated.

This compares favourably with the 8% decline in August, which Autovista24 estimates to be a fall of about 10% when adjusted for working days. Accordingly, the year-to-date downturn of 17.6% improved on the 18.8% drop through August.

With the UK performing similarly to the EU, MHCV registrations grew 18% Europe-wide last month. The sector consists primarily of heavy trucks, with a gross vehicle weight over 16 tonnes, registrations of which increased 21.5% year on year during September. The heavy-truck sector has grown in the year-to-date too, by 4.9%, which has returned MHCV registrations to growth in the first three quarters of 2022, albeit of just 1.3%.

Overall, the whole European commercial-vehicle market fell 3% year on year last month and has contracted 17.5% in the year to date. Despite the rebound of heavy-truck registrations, all of Europe’s leading markets have posted double-digit declines through September. Italy has performed comparatively well, contracting by 11%, but only five small European markets have grown this year – Cyprus, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia.