The UK registered 37,163 trucks in 2021, representing a 12.9% increase over the previous year.
“But let's be clear, the 2021 increase came off a low 2020 baseline,” said Gareth Lumsdaine, business line director of truck at Iveco, speaking at its annual State of the Nation press conference.
Pre-pandemic, the 2019 market had hit a six-year high of 48,500 registrations, but this was followed by a 32% drop to 32,900 in 2020.
“And If Q1 2020 hadn't already been set before the pandemic took hold, it could have been even worse,” he explained. “Q2 saw registrations plunging to their lowest quarterly total ever, whilst Q3 and Q4 delivered a strong recovery - and as a result, the market entered 2021 with a positive mind set.”
The 2-axle rigid sector from 6 to 16 tonnes performed strongly, reporting a 4.6% rise (7,332 to 7,671). That said, the 7.5-tonne sector showed no signs of recovery, with more operators downsizing to large vans like the Daily 7- and 7.2-tonner. In the late 1980s, 7.5-tonners represented 38% of all trucks sold bin the UK, but this has now fallen to 10%.
Heavy rigids (2-axle 18-tonners, 3-axle 6x2s and 6x4s, and 4-axle 8x2s and 8x4s), performed better, showing a 16.3% increase in volumes over 2020. This, according to Lumsdaine, was largely driven by increased demand for 8-leggers, spurred by large scale infrastructure projects like house building and HS2. Sales of 18-tonners were down, as more 26-tonners are utilised for distribution.
Tractor units experienced a massive drop in 2020 (37% down), and only bounced back by 14.4% in 2021. Under normal circumstances, they represent 45% to 48% of all truck registrations, but in 2020 and 2021, they accounted for only 42% of registrations.
Explaining this, Lumsdaine said: “It's bigger fleets and rental fleets that buy the largest numbers of tractors. And at the start of the pandemic, many simply stalled their fleet renewal policies and ran their assets for longer. They had plenty of them after all - many were even stood up - so why put new ones on the road when the existing ones are already being under-used?
“But there's more. From end of production line to registration and actually going into service, lead times for tractors are shorter than rigids. For tractors, under normal circumstances, lead times can be as short as a few weeks. For rigids, because of lengthening lead times on body slots and the time taken to body the truck, lead times can stretch into longer than several months. As a result, tractors going on the road today were actually made more recently than their rigid counterparts. So it follows that in 2021, tractor registrations would have been more affected by supply chain shortages and things like semi-conductor worries, than rigids.”