April Class 8 Sales Jump 38.9% in 28th Straight Monthly Gain

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This story appears in the May 21 print edition of Transport Topics.

U.S. fleets bought 16,905 new heavy-duty trucks in April, a 38.9% jump over the corresponding period of 2011, WardsAuto.com reported.

April marked the 28th straight month of sales expansion. Retail purchases for the year’s first four months tallied 63,750 Class 8s, a 44.5% surge over the 44,131 during the same time a year ago, Ward’s said May 11.

All seven nameplates reported year-over-year growth for the month and the four-month period.

Retail sales and orders for new vehicles have moved in different directions this year, with orders declining as sales have risen. The diverging lines have caused debate within the industry.

“We know that some industry observers have expressed concern regarding the ongoing strength of recovery in the truck market following the release of April orders earlier this month,” said David Hames, Daimler Trucks North America’s general manager for marketing and strategy.


“We believe the fundamentals are still in place for continued industry growth, given the nearly 40% increase in year-over-year retail sales shown in the April Ward’s report.”

Two truck dealers said they were less certain the growth would continue.

“May has been flat,” said Kenneth Doonan, who sells Peterbilts and medium-duty trucks in Wichita and Great Bend, Kan. He said business boomed during the first quarter, but now there appears to be a change.

“Kenworth has had a 10% layoff at its Chillicothe, Ohio, plant and Peterbilt will be taking two layoff days,” he said of the two brands belonging to Paccar Inc. “They’re calling to dealers and saying they need orders. There’s inventory sitting on the ground and the lead time to get a truck built is just three to four weeks.”

“We’re staying constant with what we delivered a year ago,” said Scott McCandless, whose family business sells Navistar’s International Trucks at four locations in Colorado. “In my market place we’re thinking we’ll stay at or remain the same as a year ago,” he said.

In talking to other Colorado business people, McCandless characterized them as “cautiously optimistic” about the next 12 to 18 months. If the housing market were to come back strong, that would change matters, but he said that cannot be assumed now.

McCandless said he has seen a small improvement in construction activity in his market, but nothing close to a boom that would allow him to plan for lots of growth.

Among the seven major truck brands, Freightliner Trucks kept first place for the month and year to date. Its April sales were 5,092 trucks, a 52.1% improvement over the 3,348 from a year ago. Cumulative sales rose 32.6% to 20,415 big trucks. Freightliner is Daimler Trucks’ main North American brand.

Navistar Inc. was second, selling 3,420 of its Internationals for the month, an 18.2% increase from 2,894. Four-month sales jumped 37.6% to 12,510 heavy trucks.

Paccar’s Kenworth Trucks and Peterbilt Motors took third and fourth places, respectively. Kenworth’s monthly total was 2,644 vehicles, a 53.9% surge from 1,718 in the year-ago month. Cumulative sales soared 78.5% to 9,475 units — the highest rate of growth by a manufacturer for the four-month period.

Peterbilt sold 2,530 Class 8s, a 41.2% improvement from 1,792 in April 2011. Year-to-date sales leapt 68.4% to 8,933 units.

Volvo Group’s two North American brands took fifth and sixth places. Volvo Trucks sold 1,577 big trucks for the month, an 18.4% improvement from 1,332. Four-month sales rose 30.6% to 6,606 units — the lowest rate of growth for the four-month period. Volvo’s year-over-year comparisons are tougher to match considering its triple-digit growth rate in 2011.

Mack Trucks had the highest rate of growth for the month, 58%, as April sales jumped to 1,479 from 936. Cumulative volume was up 47.4% to 5,065 units.

“Most of the growth we’ve seen has been in the regional haul segment,” said Mack’s John Walsh, vice president of marketing. The company is mainly selling Pinnacle tractors for highway use, often with in-house automated manual transmissions, rather than vocational trucks.

Western Star Trucks, also a part of DTNA, sold 163 trucks for the month, an 8.7% increase from 150 — the lowest rate of monthly growth. Cumulative sales rose 40.2% to 743 units.

Doonan, the truck dealer in Kansas, said he recently attended a GE Capital meeting for trucking, where executives from the lender asked dealers about orders. Doonan said the consensus came in for two explanations: prices and politics.

“There were fourth-quarter announcements of aggressive price increases for trucks sold in the first half of this year,” Doonan said, adding that the probable Obama-Romney contest for the presidency this fall is also an issue.

“I think there is uncertainty in business about what’s in store for the economy if the current president gets back for a second term,” he said.