UK commercial vehicle production was up during the first quarter of the year despite a weak March performance, new figures show. Data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows output rose by just over one percent in the first three months of the year.

The data reveals just under 10,000 new commercial vehicles, including vans, trucks and buses, were built on these shores in March, down three percent on the same month last year. Output was down for both domestic and export vehicles, although exports still accounted for six in every 10 vehicles built.

Although the statistics make less-than-ideal reading at first glance, the three-percent reduction in output equates to just 308 vehicles. Moreover, March 2022 was the highest output for the industry since 2011.

Mechanic repairing broken semi truck engine

As a result, production for the first quarter of the year was still up by 1.1 percent, following high output in January. During the first three months of the year, more than 25,500 new commercial vehicles were built in the UK, compared with just over 25,000 during the same period in 2022.

Of those vehicles, just under 11,000 were destined for UK customers – a 0.8 percent reduction compared with the first three months of last year. That equates to 43 percent of all the vehicles built in the UK, with the rest heading abroad.

That means more than 14,500 new commercial vehicles headed abroad, up 2.6 percent on the same period last year and easily offsetting the small drop in vehicles built for domestic customers. In the process, the proportion of vehicles built in the UK for export rose slightly, up to 57 percent.

Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive, said the market still looked healthy and volumes were expected to increase over 2023. However, Hawes warned the sector would need input from the government to remain competitive when compared with foreign factories.

“Despite some incidents of supply chain turbulence, UK commercial vehicle production kicked off 2023 in decent health and the overall trend is one of growth with volumes expected to rise as the year goes on,” he said. “To secure long term success, however, given the once-in-a-generation challenges involved in transitioning to new, zero emission technologies, the sector must remain competitive. We therefore need the government to introduce measures that stimulate fresh investment, with the UK’s high cost of energy the biggest barrier to competitiveness, and action to reform business rates essential.”