Although the overall numbers are relatively low, the rapid increase in recent months represents a growing threat to the core LCV business of manufacturers and their franchised networks, warns George Alexander, chief editor, commercial vehicles, at Glass's Guide.
“They must quickly become proactive in countering this,” he said. In 1999, the number of parallel-imported LCVs represented 5% of the total market - about 11,000 vehicles. In 1998 parallels accounted for just 2.5% of the total - about 6,000 vehicles.
Most popular imports are Nissan Vanette, Fiat Ducato, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the old Ford Transit. Most are imported through the Republic of Ireland.
New car-derived or panel vans are being quoted at prices between £1,500 and £5,000 below dealer list. For dealers to delay addressing the issue of such large price differentials “will inevitably lead their business customers to buy 'on price' elsewhere,” said Mr Alexander. “To expect the customer to remain loyal to traditional purchasing routes is unrealistic when it is costing him so dearly,” he added.
But it's not all good news for the would-be internet van shopper. Mr Alexander said: “There could be a hefty delivery charge placed upon this initially low price and vehicle specifications could differ.”
This alone could lead to poor residual values if the owner tried to sell the van to the trade. “Any franchised dealer would also fight hard for deals by offering sizeable discounts or incentives,” said Mr Alexander.