Class 8 Sales in December Climb to High Point of 2021

A Freightliner Cascadia. Freightliner was the market leader in December. (Freightliner)

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Class 8 U.S. retail sales in December rose 15.5% compared with a year earlier, and reached the high point for the year, WardsAuto.com reported Jan. 12.

Sales hit 24,716 compared with 21,402 in the 2020 period.

December also was the best sales month since September 2019.

December is typically the best sales month of the year amid performance bonuses and the need to move inventory to avoid taxes on any units that remain at year end, said Steve Tam, vice president at ACT Research.

“That aside, the truck makers are trying their darnedest to clear some of these red-tag or incomplete trucks — that probably bore some fruit,” he said, leading to better-than-expected sales.

“So kudos to them for that,” he said. “It was a stronger-than-expected push at year end.”

Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR, called December sales “very surprising and very positive.”

Ake agreed the number indicated sidelined, incomplete trucks were finished, shipped and actually sold, “which is quite an accomplishment.”

Kenworth T680. Kenworth's share fell to 14.6% compared with 15.7% a year earlier. (TruckPR via Flickr)

He said the truck makers apparently got some important parts deliveries early in the month.

He said some reports deliveries especially on commodity materials have improved.

For the full year, sales climbed 15.6% to 221,889 compared with 191,900 a year earlier, according to Wards.

Truck makers’ respective 12-month market shares remained largely the same — except for Kenworth Truck Co., a unit of Paccar Inc., whose share fell to 14.6% compared with 15.7% a year earlier.

Mack Trucks’ annual share jumped the most to 8.4% compared with 7.5% in the 2020 period. Mack is a unit of Volvo Group.

“Overall 2021 saw robust freight and vocational demand due to the strength of a growing economy,” said Jonathan Randall, senior vice president of sales at Mack. “Consumer spending, manufacturing and residential construction all contributed to Mack’s strong December and 2021 performance.”

In December, Freightliner, a unit of Daimler Trucks North America, remained the market leader with 8,315 sales, up 19.1% compared with a year earlier, and notched a leading 33.6% share.

Western Star, also a unit of DTNA, posted a 21.9% increase in sales to 602 trucks. That was good for a 2.4% share.

The largest increase in year-over-year sales compared with the 2020 period belonged to Volvo Trucks North America, which climbed 81.2% in December to 3,657 units. That earned it a 14.8% share. VTNA is a unit of Volvo Group.

“We are very happy with how 2021 ended,” said Magnus Koeck, vice president of the strategy division at VTNA.

December was the truck maker’s best month of the year, Koeck said. “Knowing we had eight weeks of an employee strike during the summer we are very pleased we managed to increase our year-over-year U.S. market share by 0.3% to 10% compared with 2020. Going forward, we expect the industry will continue to face supply chain constraints as well as labor shortages. This will impact the retail numbers in 2022 as demand continues to outpace supply.”

Mack’s sales rose 36.1% to 2,926, good for an 11.8% share.

Also on the positive side, Peterbilt Motors Co., a Paccar Inc. brand, notched sales of 3,405. That was up 4.1% compared with a year earlier and earned it a 13.8% share.

But Kenworth saw December sales fall 12.8% to 3,680 compared with a year earlier. Nonetheless, it notched a 14.9% share — the second highest overall in December.

International, a unit of Traton Group’s U.S. subsidiary Navistar, had sales drop 6.2% to 2,131 compared with a year earlier. It earned an 8.6% share.

Meanwhile, the price of steel is expected to stabilize in the first quarter then fall throughout the year, said Steve Latin-Kasper, senior director of market data for NTEA — The Association for the Work Truck Industry, during a recent online presentation. Aluminum is near its price peak.

Those trends could help truck makers in their efforts to set a firm price for new trucks.

New year, new resilience. Host Mike Freeze and reporters Connor Wolf and Eugene Mulero uncover the lessons 2020 and 2021 taught trucking's business leaders and consider business and legislative solutions in the year ahead. Hear a snippet above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.   
 

But labor market imbalances will just get worse as we go through this decade, he said. “As we get to 2025, it will be the first year in a long time that the United States labor market registers fewer new entrants to the market than retirees. So as bad as labor market issues are right now, we haven’t seen the worst of it in all likelihood.”

Ake agreed: “The domestic sources [for truck parts] are having problems making enough units just because they still can’t get enough workers to make those units.”

That comes as the overall manufacturing sector has heated up, he said.

As of December, manufacturing recovered 1.2 million of 1.4 million jobs lost in March and April of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“If the truck component suppliers could start supplying, magically, next month then the truck makers would have to hire significantly more people, and that would be a problem. The idea is all this gradually improves throughout the year and the production numbers go up,” Ake said.

FTR forecasts U.S. Class 8 retail sales will climb 7.3% compared with last year.

ACT is expecting an 11% increase in sales in 2022 compared with last year.

“It will be lumpy; there is an inherent assumption of progress with the supply chain,” Tam said. “But there’s also an air of caution.”

Other truck makers did not respond to a request for comment.

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