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Year end LCV registrations are likely to top 360,000 in 2015, a new record, thanks in part to the improving UK economy but mainly shaped by commercial vehicle operators moving away from larger vehicles to smaller 3.5 tonne light commercials.

CAP experts, who also predict that around 45,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will be registered this year, say that the booming LCV market has been driven by demand for light commercials, which are not subject to operator’s licence, tachograph, HGV MOT or driver’s licence legislation.

John Watts, CAP senior editor, commercial vehicles and motorcycles, said: “The predicted record number of LCV registrations flew in the face of some industry forecasts that a decline in sector share for traditional 7.5 tonne vehicles would see operators moving up to 10 or 12 tonne vehicles.

“The move away from 7.5 tonne vehicles would continue due to driving licence changes, driver CPC requirements, operator’s licence requirements and the increased kerb weight of many Euro 6 models.

“Many pundits have forecast a move up to 10 or 12 tonnes, which in theory provides a more efficient vehicle. As we anticipated, this simply hasn’t happened. In 2010 3.4% of sales were in this weight band, but the sector share has dropped to only 2.6% this year.

“In recent years many operators have simply abandoned running heavier commercials altogether, and have replaced 7.5 tonne vehicles with 3.5 tonne light commercials which are not subject to operator’s licence, tachograph, HGV MOT or driver’s licence legislation. Their operating costs are significantly lower, there are no weight restrictions, they are much more manoeuvrable, their physical presence is less intrusive, and their environmental impact is perceived as less. Consequently, the light commercial market is enjoying the resulting unprecedented growth and is heading for a record year for registrations.”

SMMT figures showed that UK commercial vehicle (CV) manufacturing grew 46.3% in July, with 9,274 units built and production for the domestic market particularly strong, up 137.6% over July 2014.

The UK CV industry has seen strong recovery in 2015 so far, with a 32.4% uplift in output.

Mr Watts highlighted the increased congestion as a downside to the record LCV registrations.

“It takes approximately three times as many 3.5 tonne vans to move the same goods as a traditional 7.5 tonne truck. However in terms of customer service, especially in today’s online delivery world in which we now live, having multiple smaller vehicles on shorter routes results in faster doorstep deliveries.

“So what does the future look like? As an increasing number of conurbations seek to impose low emission zone charging and restrict HGV deliveries to certain times of the day or night, the likelihood is that this downsizing trend will continue. We could then see the end of the 7.5 tonne sector as we know it. This may well be why certain manufacturers no longer offer models in this weight range.

“Here at CAP Automotive we will be monitoring this sector closely and adjusting our future valuation position as more evidence emerges of a permanent shift in buying patterns,” he added.