Normally, an 85.5% year on year monthly sales rise would lead to a breaking out of champagne. Not this year. The tally of 56,122 vans registered in the UK in March 2021 has to be compared with the first month of the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, a 20-year low for the market.

March is often a bumper month due to the ‘plate change’ (to 21 last month) but sales were off 10.9% compared to the pre-pandemic 2015-2019 average, as prolonged nationwide lockdown continued to suppress business confidence in the first quarter of the year.

Despite all segments experiencing higher demand, total registrations fell a little short of industry expectations as the latest forecast predicted 360,000 LCVs registered by end of the year. Overall, growth was led by an increase in larger van registrations, as vans weighing more than 2.5-3.5 tonnes made up the majority of the month’s sales, doubling (101%) to 36,032 vehicles.

A total of 97,356 light commercial vehicles was registered in the first quarter of 2021, up 43.4% on 2020, but down 1% when compared to a five-year average taken before the pandemic hit.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Although a marked improvement on last year’s March numbers, these figures illustrate the impact COVID has had on the sector and how far away the van market is from the growth it was enjoying before the pandemic hit. However, as the country emerges from lockdown, vaccinations continue to roll out, and non-essential businesses reopen, the added confidence will hopefully help shift the gears from recovery to growth for the van market.”