UK commercial vehicle production continued its strong recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in May, according to new figures. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed May output was up by more than two percent on pre-pandemic levels, despite continuing Covid restrictions.

The SMMT figures showed more than 6,200 new commercial vehicles, including vans and HGVs, rolled off British production lines last month. That represented a 661-percent increase on May 2020, although that month’s output was hit hard by the first coronavirus lockdown. In total, just 820 new commercial vehicles were built on these shores in May last year.

More importantly, therefore, the figure represented a slight increase compared with the pre-pandemic average output for May. Alongside the average May production between 2015 and 2019, production was up by 2.2 percent. However, the SMMT has pointed out that 2019 production was hit hard by model changes.

Vauxhall Vivaro-e charging

Nevertheless, it’s more good news for a sector that appears to be recovering from the pandemic with relative strength. In April, production was down just six percent on pre-pandemic levels, and that has improved further in May.

However, output for 2021 as a whole remains down on previous years. Overall, production for the first five months of the year was up 28.5 percent on 2020, but it’s down by just over 21 percent compared with the five-year average.

The SMMT said May’s increase was driven largely by the domestic market, which was up by 48.4 percent on May 2020. As a result, exports now make up 49.5 percent of all commercial vehicles built in the UK – down from 56.3 percent in 2020. The SMMT said that was partly due to “new trading agreements” and “lockdown measures abroad”.

Earlier SMMT figures showed domestic demand for vans and light commercial vehicles (LCVs) was recovering strongly, with record levels of registrations seen last month. That followed an April that also saw record registrations of LCVs.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, said the industry would need “increased confidence” both at home and abroad to cement its recovery.

“May’s figures were always set to be exponentially higher than last year, as factories were forced to operate under limited capacity, or closed entirely,” he said. “There was, however, some good news as production during the month surpassed pre-pandemic levels of output. For a full recovery, however, we need increased confidence not just in the domestic market but in overseas markets as well.”