Pandemic fuels demand for light commercial vehicles as people turn to delivery services
Van, lorry rental firms report surge in business Van and lorry rental companies are reporting a surge in business as people turn to delivery services for food and other essentials. PHOTO: ST FILE

The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled a demand for light commercial vehicles, as people turn to delivery services for food and other essentials.

Van and lorry rental companies are reporting a surge in business from old as well as new customers, including those who have lost their jobs amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr. Lawrence Mok, head of marketing at Pan-Pacific Leasing Group, one of the bigger commercial vehicle rental firms here, said individuals make up half of this year's leases, compared with only 25% last year. "A lot of people have lost their jobs," he said. "We see a lot more individuals coming in."

Compared with last year, Pan-Pacific's business has increased by 80%. The company has hence increased its fleet from 1,500 last year to 1,800 this year.

"By the end of the year, we will have another 200, bringing our total to 2,000," Mr Mok said, noting that the most sought-after models are the Toyota Hiace and Nissan NV200 vans, as well as the Toyota Dyna truck.

Ms. Jeanne Kung, a shareholder of Rhino Rental, a commercial vehicle rental and leasing firm, said distancing rules due to COVID-19 have also driven up demand from transport companies engaged to ferry workers. "Previously, a vehicle may be able to carry 13 workers, but now, it can carry only six," Ms. Kung said.

She added that the business had been growing steadily on the back of the e-commerce trend, but the pandemic has given it an additional nudge.

"I was quite worried during the circuit breaker period, when all our vehicles came back. But one week into the lockdown, we began to receive a lot of inquiries," she said, noting that today, 74 out of its 77 vehicles are rented out, and the company is looking to expand its fleet.

Overall, Ms Kung said business has gone up by about 30%, compared with last year, with most of the growth seen in the past two months or so. "Earlier in the year, it was quite bad," she noted.

Goldbell Leasing, the biggest player here with some 5,000 commercial vehicles, said its rental business has increased by 20% compared with last year. A spokesman said the increase was mostly attributable to demand for vans from last-mile logistics firms, partially offset by weaker demand for heavy vehicles from construction companies.

One new delivery driver is Mr. Chew Kian Tiong, who used to man a retail store in Resorts World Sentosa but lost his job when COVID-19 hit.

The 60-year old joined Prime Delivery less than a month ago, using his own car to make deliveries. He said he is "pleasantly surprised" that he is able to make two to four deliveries a day, and earn on average $10 per delivery. "On a per-hour basis, it is equivalent to my previous job," Mr. Chew said.

Asked why he did not want to be a full-time driver for ride-hailing operators, he said the work was "quite taxing and involved very long hours". Motor traders said the demand for commercial vehicles has been pushing up the price of a commercial vehicle certificate of entitlement (COE).

At the latest tender last week, the commercial vehicle COE rose to hit a two-and-a-half-year high of $33,089 - about $10,000 higher than its July premium.

Asked if the delivery trend would continue if and when the pandemic is contained, Pan-Pacific's Mr Mok said, "Yes. People are used to deliveries already. Like for myself, I hardly go to the supermarket any more."