Freight Transport Association (FTA) head of vans and light commercial vehicles, Mark Cartwright, sets out some of the challenges and new developments facing van operators in the upcoming year.
Sales and registrations
Registrations of new vans continue to grow. A key factor has been the rapid expansion of online shopping and home delivery, although research shows this is not the only factor responsible for the boom. Benefits such as the flexibility of smaller vehicles and the relatively simple regulatory framework for vans have played their part, too.
There are signs, however, that the dramatic increase in ownership of recent years is beginning to slow. FTA research also indicates that van fleet investment for 2017 is expected to be lower than the previous year.
It’s not clear yet whether these changes mark the start of more modest, steady growth or a significant realignment in the sector. However the story plays out, the impact of Brexit and other changes in the economy are likely to prove challenging over the year ahead.
Fuel remains the main factor in the cost of running a van. For smaller vehicles, diesel now makes up a third of the operating cost; for larger vehicles (up to 3.5 tonnes), the proportion is 38%.
It’s vital van operators have a strong voice in Westminster to ensure their needs are represented. FTA is at the forefront of the campaign for fair fuel taxation and is calling for a 3p cut in diesel duty to provide a valuable cost-free boost to the economy.
Safety and compliance
The lack of an extensive national and EU compliance structure for vans, as there is for HGVs, places an increased responsibility on operators to adopt internal controls and disciplines to ensure van fleet compliance.
The Van Excellence scheme, managed by FTA, aims to address this challenge, providing leadership and a demanding standard benchmark for the van community.
Van MOT failure rates are at their lowest since the 2008 recession, but government has expressed concern that they still remain too high, particularly for class 7 vans which display very poor standards of roadworthiness.
Many operators still see the MOT test as a ‘diagnostic tool’ which will pinpoint where repairs need to be made. It’s vital that the van sector continues its success in improving safety standards or it is possible that legislators will act to impose a more stringent compliance framework.
When it comes to enforcement, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has reduced the number of checks it carries out, but is working to make checks more targeted to ensure those most likely to commit an offence are the most likely to be scrutinised.
Air quality and urban access
Uptake of electric vehicles in the UK has been slow in comparison to cars.
This is likely to change as towns and cities become increasingly keen to penalise or ban older and more polluting vehicles. Over the next 12 months, van users will need to plan their fleets to ensure business impact of these new restrictions is minimised.
Drivers and staffing
By the end of 2016 van drivers accounted for 259,000 jobs in the UK, with around 12% of those roles filled by non-UK nationals.
Official figures show the number of EU nationals in the UK labour market is falling, although it’s not clear whether this is due to current workers leaving or a drop in new migrants.
Although the long-term impact of Brexit remains unclear, there are early signs of a shortage of van and forklift drivers, which may become more evident over the year ahead.