The annual report of France's Observatoire du Vehicule Industriel (OVI) indicates that vehicle registrations in France and Europe were at a "very high level" in all commercial vehicle markets. A "natural reduction" is expected in 2020.
The European market for industrial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes got over the 400,000 units during the 12 months up to the end of October 2019. Thanks to a new 1.1% increase over 2018, it reached the precise total of 403,449 units, according to figures published by the BNP Paribas Rental Solutions-sponsored OVI on January 16. "The rate of progression is not enormous but it has come on top of a high base in 2018," said OVI director Jean-Michel Mercier. "The result is therefore very satisfactory. We have virtually returned to the registrations level we had before the crisis. As was predicted, it took 10 years to recover from it. This decade, which began with pain has ended on a cycle high point."
Favourable economic climate
Despite the slowdown in its economy, Germany remained well ahead in the European rankings with a good 6.4% growth rate, which took the number of heavy goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes to 100,430 over the 12 months ending on October 31. France came in second position with registrations up 4.4% at 57,543, "just 300 units short of its 2008 record", the OVI noted. The market benefited from a favourable environment. The French economy is performing well and road freight transport enjoyed a fifth successive annual increase in volumes transported, taking the total back to virtually the same level as in 2010. Britain completed the podium with registrations up 3.3% to 54,905.
Spain and Italy, which lay in fourth and fifth place, each with a little over 24,000 registrations, saw their totals fall by 3.6% and 7.8% respectively, however. The same trend could be seen in eastern Europe. Registrations in the region fell 6.9% to 68,727. "Poland, which accounts for 42% of registrations in eastern Europe, recorded a 5% reduction," the OVI said.
A reduction expected in 2020
In 2020, the OVI expects a fall in registrations in France, a downward trend which started to show itself in marked fashion, moreover, in the second half (of 2019), as the full-year figures show. Growth over the 12 months up to the end of October stood at 4.4% but came only to 1.8% for the year from January 1 to December 31 2019. A study published by the French Ministry of Transport's statistical service in January 2020, which covered the third quarter of 2019, confirmed this trend. "Sales of new heavy goods vehicles fell heavily in the third quarter of 2019 (-26.3%) after a strong increase in the second quarter, which was explained by the fact that buyers were anticipating the obligation from June 15 2019 to install new generation tachographs ("smart" tachographs) in vehicles transporting goods and people," the study said. "…Sales of used heavy goods vehicles increased (+7.7%). This result, which ran counter to that of the preceding quarter, can be explained by a switch from new to second-hand, given that older vehicles are not subject to the new European regulation on tachographs."
The OVI expects registrations to fall by 10% in 2020 to 49,500. The reduction will mainly concern tractor registrations, which it expects to fall 15.2% to 26,000, rather than those of trailers, which it sees as likely to diminish 4.4% to 23,500. This could appear to be a sharp drop but Jean-Michel Mercier says that it will not create a crisis situation and even describes the drop as a "natural reduction". "We reached an exceptional high in the cycle in 2019 and it is probable that 50,000 units per year represents the optimal potential of the French heavy goods vehicle market," he said.
The used vehicles market, particularly for tractors, is nevertheless generating some concern. "Several consecutive years of high levels of new vehicle deliveries in a context of accelerating fleet replacement is now producing some tension in second-hand circuits," the OVI said. "This market tension is showing itself in longer storage periods and pressure on prices," said the OVI, which estimated that prices had fallen 8% on average.
Another warning sign was the fact that the freight transport sector itself performed less well in the third quarter of 2019, as the Ministry of Transport study showed. "On the basis of data corrected for seasonal and working day variations, road freight transport activity among vehicles registered in France and measures in numbers of tonne-kilometres covered in France, fell by 0.6% in the third quarter, after having risen 3.8% in the first quarter and 2.2% in the second quarter," the study said.