Without a van, 3.4 million people – 10% of the workforce – would not be able to do their jobs, with an estimated 500,000 driving one as their main role.
That is one of the key findings in a new report called Commercial Vehicles: Delivering For The UK Economy. Published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders and the Bearing Point management and technology consultancy, it highlights the huge economic and social contribution made by van users and employees of businesses that depend on them, with a combined wage bill of at least £56 billion (11% of GDP).
The van parc has grown significantly in recent years, up 59% since 2000 – almost double the growth seen in cars. The boom in online shopping, in particular, has seen a surge in demand for delivery vans.
Meanwhile, the rapid rise in the number of self-employed people, up from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017, has also been a key driver of van growth, with the trend to vehicle downsizing another factor.
As well as the vehicles registered to businesses, the report suggests that the majority of privately-owned vans are operated by a booming sole trader and SME sector. The van is an essential tool of the trade for these owner-operators, who depend on them for their livelihood.
Vans operated by sole traders and SMEs also tend to have a higher specification. Small firms are now taking advantage of new innovations in safety and comfort, often to reflect their professionalism. New vans offer a variety of new features, including advanced driver assistance, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking systems, all of which help to improve the sector’s already strong safety record.
Around 900,000 used vans change hands every year, while the annual new light commercials market is estimated to be worth nearly £10 billion. Almost all (96%) of these vehicles are powered by diesel, which delivers the high levels of efficiency and performance needed to transport goods over long distances.
The van sector has invested heavily to ensure the Euro 6 diesel vehicles on sale today are the cleanest ever. The latest low emission technology has virtually eliminated particulates and vastly reduced NOx.
Furthermore, average new van CO2 fell to 166.93g/km last year, down 10.4% since 2013, highlighting the important role new diesel vans continue to play in reducing emissions.
Manufacturers are investing heavily to bring an exciting range of ultra-low and zero emission vans to market. While there is an increasing appetite for these vehicles, they accounted for just 0.3% of the market in 2018. To increase uptake, a number of barriers must be removed, including tackling range and payload anxiety and addressing the sector’s specific charging needs.
“The UK’s van fleet is the backbone of our society, driving our economy and allowing millions of workers to carry out jobs that our country relies on,” Mike Hawes, the SMMT Chief Executive, said.