The extent of British businesses’ dependence on vans is revealed by new research published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and Bearing Point (a management and technology consultancy).
This says that without a van, 3.4 million people — 10% of the UK’s workforce — would not be able to do their jobs, and driving a van is the main role of an estimated 500,000 people.
The report, Light Commercial Vehicles: Delivering for the UK Economy, highlights for the first time the vast economic and social contribution made by the UK’s van users and the employees of businesses that depend on them, with a combined wage bill of at least £56 billion — some 11% of GDP.
However, this figure only accounts for part of the contribution that vans make to the economy.
The UK is home to two major van-manufacturing plants, as well as a thriving sub-economy of van conversion companies and a strong after-market sector.
Around 900,000 used vans change hands every year, while the annual new ‘light commercials’ market is estimated to be worth nearly £10 billion.
The UK ‘van parc’ has experienced significant growth 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.
The UK is now the EU’s biggest online retail market, with 83% of consumers here buying goods and services online, compared with theEU average of 60%.
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 most privately owned vans are operated by a ‘booming’ sole trader and SME sector, adding that despite additional costs, vans operated by sole traders and SMEs tend to be of a higher specification.
Moreover, the development of the latest low-emission technologies has resulted in new vehicles that have virtually eliminated particulates and have vastly reduced Nox, and manufacturers are investing heavily to bring ultra-low-emission and zero-emission vans to market.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: “The UK’s van fleet is the backbone of our society, allowing millions of workers to carry out jobs that our country relies on.
“Industry is supporting these businesses by responding to a changing society, developing and delivering the cleanest and safest vehicles in history.
“To continue to thrive, this vital sector needs policies and incentives that encourage businesses to invest in the latest technology that best suits their needs to help them deliver for Britain.”