The effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit saw the UK new van market fall by exactly a fifth last year, new figures have revealed. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed 292,657 new vans and commercial vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tonnes were registered last year.

That’s down 20 percent on the 365,778 registered in 2019 – a figure reflecting the challenges of lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions. With dealerships closed and people urged to stay at home, sales fell through the floor in the spring, but recovered somewhat in the summer and autumn.

Couple that with the uncertainty of post-Brexit trade deal negotiations that went right down to the wire, and 2020 was a tumultuous year for the industry. Nevertheless, the sector fared slightly better than the new car market, which saw sales fall by just under 30 percent during the course of 2020.

2021 Ford Transit Connect

As usual, vans weighing between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes were the most popular vehicles, accounting for more than half of all light commercial vehicle (LCV) registrations last year. More than 190,000 vans in this category were registered, but that was still a drop of 16.5 percent compared with the number registered in 2019.

Vans weighing between two and 2.5 tonnes were a distant second, with just under 47,500 new vehicles registered. And third place went to pick-up trucks, of which more than 35,500 were registered last year. That said, both types of vehicle were less popular than last year, with pick-up truck volumes diminishing by 32.7 percent in 2020, while 2-2.5-tonne van sales were down 15.6 percent.

Ford Ranger Thunder 2020

As usual, Ford dominated the best-seller list, with the Transit Custom cruising to top spot with more than 43,500 sales. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter came second, followed by the ‘full-size’ Transit. The Ford Ranger was Britain’s best-selling pick-up truck.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, said 2020 was difficult for the commercial vehicle sector, but expressed hope that a UK-EU trade agreement and coronavirus vaccines could help spur the industry on in 2021.

2019 Mercedes Sprinter

“It’s been a truly extraordinary and testing year for the commercial vehicle sector,” he said. “From keeping services running, to getting key workers, goods and medicines from A to B, manufacturers and operators alike have adapted to multiple unpredictable challenges.

“Undeniably the LCV market, having shrunk by a fifth, has a lot of hurdles to overcome as we enter 2021. However, investment in fleet renewal will be key to driving recovery, and the sector’s resilience, now coupled with added clarity over UK-EU trading relations and the rollout of vaccines, offers hope for both the van market and the wider economy.”