The UK commercial vehicle manufacturing sector enjoyed its best March in over a decade this year, despite the global chip shortage. While UK car production hit its lowest March level since 2009, figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed the commercial vehicle sector’s fortunes could not have been more different.

According to the SMMT’s latest figures, the car industry saw output drop by around a third in March compared with lockdown-hit March 2021, but commercial vehicle production increased by 64.3 percent year on year. More than 10,000 vans, trucks, taxis, buses and coaches rolled out of British factories in the third month of the year, taking the first-quarter total past the 25,000 mark.

March also saw production surpass pre-pandemic levels for the first time, with output up by 11.3 percent compared with March 2019. That’s despite the global semiconductor shortage, which has stunted output in the car market, as well as other supply chain issues and high energy costs caused by the war in Ukraine.

Vauxhall - Luton

Over the first three months of the year, growth was predominantly driven by the 70.5-percent increase in exported commercial vehicles, which saw almost 6,000 more vehicles head overseas compared with the first quarter of last year. Exports account for the majority of vehicles produced in this country, with 56.2 percent of all commercial vehicles produced in the first quarter heading abroad. And the vast majority of those vehicles (94.4 percent) were destined for customers in the European Union.

However, the number of vehicles built for the UK market also rose noticeably, up 42.6 percent compared with the first quarter of 2021. But in March, the number of UK-bound commercial vehicles built in this country increased by a third.

First electric van prototypes in build at LEVC

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, said the results were positive, but warned that the threat of rising energy costs and inflation could prove problematic for the industry going forward.

“Despite the challenges the UK automotive industry continues to face, most notably the global shortage of semiconductors, commercial vehicle manufacturing output is still resolute,” he said. “Significant demand from both home and overseas for the latest and greenest working vehicles continues and will be aided by new model and technology releases throughout the year. Competitiveness, however, is far from assured and action must be taken now to reduce the potential impact of rising energy and inflation costs, to encourage investment and the long term future of the sector.”