European light-commercial vehicle sales outgained the passenger car market in 2018, buoyed by a healthy economy and new launches. But the sector will face challenges this year, led by uncertainties surrounding a September 1 deadline for emissions certification under the new Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle Test Procedure, or WLTP.
Sales of light commercial vehicles (under 3.5 metric tons) increased by 3.5 percent in the European Union and European Free Trade Association countries, surpassing the 2 million mark for the first time since 2007, according to industry association ACEA. Several of Europe's biggest markets recorded healthy gains, including Spain (+7.8 percent); Germany (+5.4 percent) and France (+4.6 percent). Those gains offset a slight decrease in Britain (-1.3 percent) and a larger drop in economically troubled Italy (-6 percent). JATO Dynamics recorded similar figures, showing an increase of 2.5 percent in EU countries to total sales of 1.94 million units.
The van market is heavily influenced by economic trends, especially in sectors such as housing and retail. "The overall economy was great in 2018, with all indicators green," said Julien Gamundi, sales forecast analyst at IHS Markit who specializes in light-commercial vehicles. "It was really a pull on sales." The medium and small commercial segments are likely to continue to gain in 2019, while the car-derived van may have topped out, Gamundi said.
Medium commercial vans such as the Ford Transit are the favored means of "last mile" delivery with the growth of online commerce, he said. "There's a lot of deliveries to be made and a lot of volume to be carried in Western Europe," he said, adding that demand for campers -- which are normally converted by third parties -- was also growing. Gamundi said the car-derived van segment, which get its name because the models are built on passenger-vehicle architectures -- has less room for growth because it has been so highly competitive in recent years.
Europe's best-selling brands last year were Ford, which gained 6.9 percent for a total of 321,334 sales to keep the No. 1 spot, followed by Renault, up 1.1 percent to 280,439 sales, and Volkswagen, at No. 3 with 233,600 sales, an increase of 3.2 percent. However, by group, PSA dominated with a 25 percent share of the European market after integrating Opel/Vauxhall into its portfolio in the middle of 2017.
Hot-selling models last year included the Peugeot Expert, Ford Transit, Citroen Jumpy and Renault Master. By volume, the Transit Custom held the top spot, with 120,285 units sold, followed by the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Citroen Berlingo (see tables, Page 19). Significant launches last year included, toward the end of the year, PSA Group's new family of car-derived vans, the Peugeot Partner, Citroen Berlingo and Opel/Vauxhall Combo. Other new entrants included the third-generation Sprinter.