By Ken Fletcher

DESPITE the hysteria about electric vehicles, one sector of the market that remains in fairly buoyant mood is that of pick-ups trucks, which are the day-to-day transport mainstay of many farming businesses across Scotland.

Being decidedly 'work-based' vehicles and by definition often working where electric charging points are not readily available, pick-up trucks remain firmly committed to carbon-based fuel sources, almost exclusively diesel.

The fact is, pick-up truck sales in November bucked the national downward trend by actually recording sales that were up 17% on last year. That brought up the year-to date figure to close to 50,000 pick-ups being sold across the UK, which is about the same as last year.

However, the dynamics of the market are being led by some major launches in the past year, most notably the Nissan Navara, which is a brand name that has managed to survive problems with the chassis on one of its older series, which required a 'buy-back' programme instigated by the manufacturer.

It seems the buyers have forgiven Nissan and are confident that lightning does not strike twice! Support for the new Navara has been strong and in November it nudged its way in at No 10 on the light commercial vehicle market with a total of 917 sales for that month – it's strongest showing yet.

It has some way to go, though, before it catches up on the Ford Ranger series which has led the market for the past few years. The Ranger sold almost 2000 in that month and in the year to date is streets ahead of the market with a total of almost 16,000 sales.

The other new dynamic to enter the market and certain to feature in 2020 is the rejuvenated Mitsubishi L200 which, incredibly, is now on to its sixth series. It was once top of the sales league in the UK by some margin until Ford muscled its way in and it has aspirations to regain lost ground.

All pick-ups, though, have been subjected to much the same pressures as the farm tractor market to cut engine emission levels. This was, for instance, one of the main reasons that caused the demise of Land Rover's 'old' Defender ranges and has resulted in a complete rethink of what's in the engine bay for many marques.

The nett result is that quite a few have downsized, with many now opting for a sub-two-litre power plant, with most (but not all) allying this to the inclusion of AdBlue, the urea-based additive that is used as an exhaust after treatment to significantly reduce the amount of nitrous oxide pumped into the atmosphere.

However, despite its underlying strength, the pick-up market remains highly competitive and two newcomers in the last couple of years, the Fiat Fullback (a Mitsubishi L200 derivative) and the Mercedes X-Class (largely based on the new Nissan Navara) have struggled to compete. So, the main players of Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Isuzu and Toyota, will continue to knock seven bells out of each other for sales in 2020.

While the pick-up market is largely about 'work', leisure-style derivatives have really come to the fore in 2019 and will do so in 2020. Most recent of these is the Ford Ranger Raptor which is going head to head with the highly stylised Isuzu Arctic Trucks AT35 and the one of the same basic name from Toyota, the AT35.

However, Land Rover diehards will be looking on with some anticipation as to what the manufacturer will add in the way of a pick-up truck – as is anticipated for its important new Defender range. Will it cut the mustard with farmers in the same way that the old Defender did?

That will be one of the main questions that will be answered in 2020.

Talking tax

Double cab pick-ups are classified as LCVs (light commercial vehicles) by the government for taxation purposes and as long as their payload gets to one tonne or more, then they qualify for VAT reimbursement when bought for business purposes. Most qualify for this, but some of the more specialist models –such as the Ford Ranger Raptor – have had some much added to them that this has reduced their payload capacity to under the threshold, so they do not qualify for claiming back VAT.

Single cab pick-ups are automatically classed as LCVs, so there’s less of a worry there and also all pick-ups are rated at a fixed rate of VED, or road tax and don't follow the CO2-based regime laid out for cars. For 2018/19, most vans and pickups pay £250 a year, rising to £260 in 2019/20.

Also, while company cars pay benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax based on a sliding scale of emission levels, pick-ups are taxed at a flat rate. For 2018/19 this was £3350 and will rise to £3430 in 2019/20. That means someone earning within the 20% income tax threshold who opts for a pickup as a company car would pay just 20% of £3350, which is £670 a year, while a 40% earner would pay £1340 – both substantially less than what you would pay for even a modest company car.