UK truck market dips but artic demand holds up

Time was when the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) could be relied upon for timely and detailed data showing the relative strengths and weaknesses of all truck manufacturers in various UK truck market sectors, based on registration documents processed by the government’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Not any more.

To the mounting irritation, anger even, of many of these manufacturers, dealers and (most important of all) truck buyers, the SMMT is persisting with its ill-advised new policy of publishing only the skimpiest of information on truck registrations. There is now talk of Freedom of Information requests being sent to the DVLA and of other action to force publication – one way or another – of information that many feel really ought to be in the public domain.

What truck market information the SMMT does now publish comes late and is often littered with errors. In January, when ACEA (Association des Constructeurs Européens d’Automobiles), a big Brussels-based European association of vehicle manufacturers, published 2017 commercial vehicle registration figures in detail for the whole of Western Europe (European Union plus European Free Trade Area countries) the UK was one of only a tiny number of countries, including Lithuania, Slovenia and Luxembourg, for which the 2017 totals had to be estimated.

And when the SMMT’s truck registration figures for last year were finally published in mid-February, they contained several glaring errors. The upshot is that we, like many others, have had to turn to other sources in our attempts to lift the veil a little on what has really been going on in the UK truck market.

Trucks at 6.0 tonnes GVW and above

Manufacturer (parent or controlling group) 2017 registrations 2016 registrations % change 2017 market share 2016 market share
DAF Trucks (Paccar) 13,301 13,911 -4.4% 29.5% 30.1%
Mercedes-Benz (Daimler) 7,631 7,004 +9.0% 16.9% 15.2%
Scania (Volkswagen) 6,990 7,468 -6.4% 15.5% 16.2%
Volvo Trucks (Volvo Group) 5,819 5,732 +1.5% 12.9% 12.4%
Iveco (CNH Industrial) 3,475 3,542 -1.9% 7.7% 7.7%
MAN (Volkswagen) 3,355 4,074 -17.6% 7.4% 8.8%
Renault Trucks (Volvo Group) 2,065 2,132 -3.1% 4.6% 4.6%
Isuzu Truck (Isuzu) 829 904 -8.3% 1.8% 2.0%
Dennis Eagle (Terberg) 760 634 +19.9% 1.7% 1.4%
Fuso (Daimler) 754 725 +4.0% 1.7% 1.6%
Others 60 96 -37.7% 0.13% 0.2%
Hino (Toyota) 6 9 -33.3% 0.013% 0.019%
Total 45,045 46,231 -2.6% 100% 100%


Good year for Iveco, DAF

One eye-catching development last year is that Iveco’s market share has edged above MAN’s for the first time since 2006. Small wonder then that Iveco UK managing director Stuart Webster sums up 2017 as “a good year overall”.

He quickly adds, however, that there was an overall downward trend in truck sales in the UK in the final quarter of last year, largely as result of persistent Brexit-related uncertainty and government dithering, it would seem. Webster is not alone in regarding this recent dip in truck sales and all the uncertainty behind it as “worrying news.”

Robin Easton, managing director of the DAF Trucks sales and marketing operation in the UK and Irish Republic, is another truck manufacturer boss with more cause than most to look back on 2017 with some satisfaction, even though the number of DAF trucks sold here fell by about 600 compared with 2016.

“Another year, and another record-breaking performance from DAF Trucks and our dealer network,” he says. “Our dominant position in the UK market is the result of two key factors: a fantastic product range, which was completely updated last year and which is already delivering productivity benefits for customers, and industry-leading services and support from our dealer network.

“With a strong order book, I expect us to consolidate, if not further strengthen, our position in 2018. The up-to-7% fuel economy improvement of the new CF and new XF can mean over £3,000 per truck per year off operators’ fuel bills.”

Like Claes Jacobsson, his opposite number at Scania (Great Britain), Easton is keen to emphasise that new vehicle registration statistics tell only part of the story of what is going on in the truck market. Jacobsson went so far towards the end of last year as declaring that he was no longer really all that interested in growing Scania’s share of the UK’s new truck market.

Cynics may suggest that such comments could have something to do with a year-on-year fall of more than 6% in the number of new Scania trucks registered in the UK last year, but there is evidently more to it than this.

Back at DAF, Robin Easton underlines record figures last year from the company’s DAFaid roadside assistance scheme. It dealt with 81,374 call-outs in 2017, up nearly 10% on the 2016 figure. Cue the cynics again. Does this not point simply to worsening truck reliability, perhaps as a result of the introduction of fancy Euro-VI exhaust after-treatment systems, goes their speculation.

Absolutely not, counters DAFaid manager Jake Blowers. “The increase in calls reflects a subtle change in the way some operators use DAFaid to support their businesses,” he says. “Rather than dealing with minor repairs themselves, or booking them in for later rectification, they are calling DAFaid to have their trucks fixed first time and back to work as soon as possible.

“This improves their fleet uptime and helps protect their OCRS (the DVSA’s “operator compliance risk score” system). The growth is also due in part to an increase in non-DAF vehicle breakdowns, which accounted for almost 10,000 DAFaid jobs last year.”

DAF LF for Deliserve
DAF Trucks increased its market share above 30% in 2017

Stronger demand for lighter trucks, weaker for multi-axle rigids

One 2017 truck sales trend highlighted by Iveco’s Stuart Webster is a strengthening demand for lighter trucks, which he defines as “those perceived to be smaller, less threatening, more compact and more acceptable on the high street.”

Statistics from one source (at neither SMMT nor Iveco) substantiate this. They show that a long-term downward trend in sales of trucks at 7.5 tonnes GVW was reversed last year. They were up by about 2% year-on-year in an overall 6.0 tonnes-plus truck market which shrank by 2.6%. The DAF LF remains the UK’s top-selling 7.5-tonner, followed by Iveco, Isuzu, Fuso, Mercedes-Benz and MAN, in that order. Sales of MAN 7.5-tonners plunged sharply last year, however, from more than 500 in 2016 to fewer than 200.

Iveco’s Webster is especially pleased with the success of the Daily at 7.0 tonnes GVW. Around 1,000 of these were registered last year. “Operators like their simplicity, compactness and sheer driveability, not least with the highly responsive and easy-to-drive Hi-Matic automatic gearbox,” he says.

The story in the multi-axle rigid sector of the UK truck market is an entirely different one. Here it is clear that the increasing woes of the UK construction sector (witness the collapse of the huge Carillion group towards year end) are beginning to have an effect on demand for eight-wheelers, the favourite chassis configuration of tipper operators. Our sources suggest that the number of eight-wheeler registrations fell by about 3% from the record high of 2016.

Scania 8x4 for SRC
The 8×4 market dipped in 2017 as the construction sector stagnated

Scania continues to hold on to the top-selling slot in this sector but Volvo is now snapping at its heels with more determination than ever before, closely followed by DAF. Sales of Mercedes eight-wheelers grew modestly last year, whereas those of MAN, Renault Trucks and Iveco all fell slightly.

“Demand for eight-wheelers appears to have dropped back to what might be regarded as more normal levels,” says Iveco’s Webster. “That’s hardly a disaster, but it does reflect the stalling of some major infrastructure projects in our less certain world, as well as stagnant house-building, pressures on budgets and so on.”

That uncertainty appears not yet to have spread into the waste management sector, judging by a remarkable growth in sales last year of three-axle rigid chassis. Our sources suggest that they are up overall by more than 10% compared with 2016. Dennis Eagle seemed to thrive in its first full year under Terberg group ownership, overtaking Volvo in three-axle truck registrations last year. Mercedes-Benz also had an exceptionally good year in this market sector, overtaking DAF to claim the top-selling slot.

Tractive units continue to account for a large chunk, around 40%, of the entire UK truck market, and the proportion of operators favouring three axles over two continues to grow, now even including some supermarkets.

Scania continues to outsell all rivals in this market sector but its lead was under serious challenge from Mercedes last year, as it was from DAF in 2016. Our sources suggest that every manufacturer in this sector of the market saw sales grow last year. The tractive unit (two- and three-axle combined) sales league table now is headed by Scania, followed by Mercedes, DAF, Volvo, MAN, Renault Trucks and Iveco, in that order, we believe.

“2017 was another good year for three-axle tractors,” says Iveco’s Webster. “It is short of the record levels we experienced two or three years ago but healthy nonetheless. Yes, demand was starting to fall as we moved through the last quarter, but we certainly aren’t entering 2018 worrying that the bottom is going to fall out of the tractor world.”

Mercedes-Benz Actros for Wincanton
Mercedes-Benz challenged Scania for tractive unit leadership in 2017
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore
Tim Blakemore is an award-winning automotive journalist and the former editor of our sister title, Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. He is also the UK representative on the panel of judges for the biennial, pan-European Trailer Innovation Award scheme.

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