Industry body says it will take time to return to previous output levels.

March saw the UK produce roughly a third fewer commercial vehicles than would be expected in ‘normal’ years, according to figures released this week. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows production was down by more than 32 percent in March when compared with the five-year average for that month.

The third month of 2021 marked a year since the coronavirus pandemic caused British factories and shops to close their doors more or less overnight. With production halted for the final third of the month, the output figures for March 2020 made grim reading for industry executives.

A year on, the country was in yet another lockdown, albeit slightly less strict. Factories remained open with social distancing and other ‘Covid-safe’ measures in place. As a result, March’s year-on-year growth in production looked impressive, with output up almost 17 percent when compared with the same month in 2020.

First electric van prototypes in build at LEVC

However, such comparisons are a little unfair, and the SMMT says production is still far behind usual levels. According to the data, output was down 32.2 percent when compared with average March output for the past five years.

Nevertheless, more than 6,000 new commercial vehicles were built in the UK last month, up from 5,275 in 2020. And however artificial that growth may be, it’s the first growth the market has seen for six months.

So far in 2021, however, the data is less encouraging. With lockdowns stifling demand at home and abroad, just over 16,000 new commercial vehicles rolled out of British factory gates in the first three months of 2021. That’s down by almost a quarter (24.7 percent) on the 21,354 vehicles built here during the same period in 2020 – most of which was before the coronavirus pandemic set in.

“One year since the coronavirus pandemic first caused a nationwide lockdown, we are starting to see signs of recovery, with growth in commercial vehicle production for the first time in six months being very welcome,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “March 2021 was always going to be up, as last year’s output was hit so badly by shuttered factories. While manufacturers are working hard to make up for production lost last year, getting back to pre-pandemic levels will take time as many key export markets have new lockdown restrictions in place.

“Fleet renewal remains crucial to returning the CV sector to growth, especially as manufacturers are investing heavily in new zero emission capable technologies that support operator and driver needs. The pace of this transformation can also ensure the UK remains an attractive and globally competitive destination for commercial vehicle manufacturing.”

Ford engine production at Dagenham