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2021 new van sales revealed: who were the winners and losers?

2021 saw van sales recover to nearly pre-covid levels despite semiconductor shortages and new Covid variants threatening supply chains...


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by
Charlie Martin

Mercedes Sprinter 2021 in front of building

Sales of Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs), including vans, were up by 21.4% in 2021 in the UK compared with 2020 – a rise that has been attributed to recovery in the construction and home delivery industries following the coronavirus pandemic driving demand. 

Overall, 355,380 vans left showrooms last year – just 3% fewer than the five-year pre-Covid average. However, had it not been for semiconductor chip shortages and the ongoing advent of new variants of Covid threatening supply chains, this figure would have undoubtedly been higher. 

Of particular note is the fact that 12,759 electric vans were sold in 2021 – an increase of 142.3% compared with 2021. However, diesel vans still represented the majority of those purchased – for example, diesel van sales for December alone outnumber the year’s electric van sales by more than two to one.

Research by What Car? suggests that vehicle cost, range limitations, and the scarcity of public charge points are the three dominant reasons that prevent potential buyers choosing an electric vehicle. December’s cuts to the Government’s Plug-in Vehicle Grant are likely to exacerbate the problem of cost for van drivers, and that could dampen the growth in electric van sales in 2022.

Of all the LCVs sold in 2021, 87% were vans, while pick-ups and commercial SUVs accounted for the remaining 12% and 1% of sales, respectively.

So, which were the most popular models over the course of the year? Below we count down the top 10 best-selling commercial vehicles in 2021.

10

Vauxhall Combo

The Vauxhall combo jointly took Best Small Van for Practicality honours at our recent What Car? Van and Commercial Vehicle Awards. Features such as a central folding table and an 8.0in infotainment touchscreen angled at the driver are available in range-topping versions. These suit the Combo well to buyers who expect they’ll spend a lot of time on their own, or who require an office-like interior when they're on the move.

2021 sales 10,569

Pros

  • Onboard weighing
  • Great safety equipment
  • Smart and comfortable interior

Cons

  • Confusing engine range
  • Rough-feeling gearbox
9

Peugeot Partner

'Partner' is an apt name for this Peugeot van, because its car-like design features plenty of storage spaces and masses of driver assistance tech, which make it easier to drive and live with than many rivals. You can also carry payloads in excess of 1000kg and up to 4.3m3 in volume. In fact, it’s so good that it was a joint winner of our Best Small Van for Practicality Award.

2021 sales 11,290

Pros

  • Economical engines
  • Fun to drive
  • Interesting and comfortable interior

Cons

  • Limited interior storage
  • Only a five-speed gearbox on lower-powered vans
8

Ford Transit Connect

Straddling the line between a van and a car is the Ford Transit Connect, which we honoured as the Best Small Van to Drive in our 2021 Van and Commercial Vehicle Awards. Based on similar underpinnings to those of the Ford Focus family car, it offers a range of peppy petrol and diesel engines, good handling and one of the most comfortable rides in the class. You also get a spacious interior and up to 967kg of payload capacity, which is more than many rivals can manage.

2021 sales 11,498

Pros

  • Great connected features
  • High weight carrying abilities
  • Excellent seating and interior

Cons

  • Steering controls require familiarisation
  • Sync 3 system prone to errors
7

Citroën Berlingo

The Citroën Berlingo was a joint winner of the Best Small Van for Practicality honours at our recent What Car? Van and Commercial Vehicle Awards. It differentiates itself from the Peugeot Partner, Vauxhall Combo and Toyota Proace – which share the same underpinnings – with its customisation options and multiple trim levels. The Berlingo's 8.0in infotainment touchscreen improves the interior feel and sets it apart from rivals, which might explain why it was the most popular choice of its family in 2021.

2021 sales 12,030

Pros

  • Great safety features
  • Fun to drive

Cons

  • Limited interior storage
  • Only a five-speed gearbox on lower-powered vans
  • Limited equipment on entry level versions
6

Ford Ranger

The 2021 What Car? Pick-Up of the Year winner offers a variety of body options that make it a great family car as well as a capable load-lugger. The Ford Ranger rides comfortably and offers particularly strong performance with the most powerful engine and the 10-speed automatic gearbox fitted. Given that it’s one of the most car-like pick-ups available, it’s also an incredibly popular option for company car buyers who want to take advantage of low benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax rates for commercial vehicles. As such, it’s no shock that it was the most popular pick-up in 2021, and the only one to break into the top 10 for LCV sales.

2021 sales 17,830

Pros

  • Rides quite well for a pick-up
  • Gutsy diesel engines
  • Competitively priced

Cons

  • All engines are pretty noisy
  • Greatly reduced payload on Raptor version
  • Relatively short warranty
5

Vauxhall Vivaro

The Vauxhall Vivaro shared the Best Medium Van for Practicality Award at the latest What Car? Van and Commercial Vehicle Awards, thanks to its perfect balance of a 6.1m3 loading volume and a maximum payload of 1446kg. You also get motion-sensing doors, which are helpful when your hands are full. Such features make life much easier in a Vivaro, which helps to explain its popularity over the course of 2021.

2021 sales 17,957

Pros

  • Wide choice of engines
  • Comfortable ride
  • Huge payload capabilities

Cons

  • Cramped interior
  • Changes to loadspace dimensions
4

Volkswagen Transporter

The Volkswagen Transporter is a favourite among private buyers and small businesses because of its high predicted resale values – and the resultant low leasing prices – combined with modest running costs. Beyond that, it offers composed handling and brisk enough performance, even if you’re hauling the maximum payload.

2021 sales 21,190

Pros

  • Huge choice of variants
  • Modern safety aids and infotainment tech
  • Punchy and frugal 2.0 TDI 150 diesel

Cons

  • Basic entry-level model
  • Firm ride compared with some rivals
  • Top-end versions start to become very pricey
3

Mercedes Sprinter

Fitting its name, one of the key attractions of the Mercedes Sprinter is its range of punchy engines, meaning there’s a version to suit almost everyone. It also has a good variety of trims, and high-end versions are fitted with a 10.3in infotainment touchscreen.

2021 sales 21,915

Pros

  • Huge range of body styles
  • High-tech but user friendly infotainment
  • Improved fuel economy with front-wheel drive vans

Cons

  • Not the cheapest van to buy or run
  • Aggressive safety systems
2

Ford Transit

The Ford Transit became an icon of British roads because of its car-like handling and high load capacity, and that’s true of the current model. It’s still manoeuvrable in tight spaces, and even the entry-level 103bhp engine has enough power, unless you’re planning to use the full 2200kg load capacity. Best of all, it’s highly customisable, with seven body weights, optional four-wheel drive and mild hybrid engines to improve economy and pulling power. It's little surprise that it was the second-most popular van in Britain in 2021, given its broad appeal and name value.

2021 sales 34,293

Pros

  • Economical with lower CO2 emissions than before
  • New connectivity features
  • Higher payloads

Cons

  • No covered storage
  • Base trim quite sparse
1

Ford Transit Custom

The 2021 What Car? Medium Van of the Year winner, the Ford Transit Custom, was the most popular van in 2021 by a margin of more than 19,000 sales. That’s not too much of a surprise, because Ford offers it in a multitude of sizes, engines and even a plug-in hybrid version, so there’s a model to suit almost every driver. Moreover, its 1459kg maximum payload trounces other vans in its class, meaning it's a safe option for fleets which need flexible vans that suit multiple different types of work.

2021 sales 53,394

Pros

  • Improved fuel economy
  • Class-leading productivity
  • Great ride and handling

Cons

  • Needs a better automatic gearbox
  • Loadspace protection could be of a better quality