February Truck Orders Drop 7.3%, But Dealers Still Confident on 2012

By Frederick Kiel, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 12 print edition of Transport Topics.

North American trucking fleets ordered 22,500 new Class 8 vehicles in February, a 7.3% decrease from last February and the second straight monthly decline, ACT Research reported. However, truck dealers told Transport Topics they were not concerned a downward trend had begun.

“In February, the order intake slowed, and January was slower for us as well,” Richard Witcher, CEO of Minuteman Trucks Inc., a Navistar International truck dealer in Walpole Mass., told Transport Topics.

“The decrease of the depreciation allowance from 100% to 50% will have an impact on smaller businesses buying trucks this year,” Witcher said. “However, the average age of the fleet has gone up and created a pent-up demand that will lead to higher orders later in the year.”

Witcher, chairman of the American Truck Dealers association, said most association members are expressing similar optimism.

The February orders represented a 10.9% decrease from the 25,264 new heavy-duty models ordered in January, ACT Research, Columbus. Ind., said in its March 2 report.

“I am not concerned at the lower intake rate at this point, because we know the demand for freight has remained consistent, and all other economic indicators are improving, so that we expect to be seeing a normal buying cycle this year,” Witcher said.

“The decline isn’t a cause for concern,” Steve Tam, ACT’s vice president for the commercial vehicle sector, told TT. “Our best understanding of what is going comes when we look at seasonal patterns, and the trends show little difference between January and February, generally among the lower order months of the year, which were pretty close again this year.”

Tam said that the strong orders of 30,100 new Class 8s in December resulted in part from buyers seeking to take advantage of the 100% depreciation allowance, which ended Dec. 31.

“Those incentives only worked until the end of the year,” Tam said. “If you come to buy now, you will have to pay the 2012 price increase, minus any discounts you work out for volume buying.

Truck manufacturers, “because of the expensive new technology they had to introduce over the previous 10 years, are now trying to make up for those lost profits in their 2012 price increase,” he said. “That is part of the reason for the minor slowdown.”

He said that March and April traditionally were strong ordering months.

“A lot of fleets have already planned strong orders in the next two months in order to take delivery late in the second quarter and early in the third, when the usual bubble of freight demand appears,” Tam said. “We aren’t seeing any indications of a change in this pattern.”

ACT counted 305,393 new Class 8 orders in 2011, a 68.6% increase over the 181,181 orders in 2010.

“We do project truck builds, but not truck orders, because we can’t look into people’s minds,” Tam said.

“ACT counted 255,261 builds of new Class 8 trucks in 2011 in North America and projects a build rate is 296,500 for 2012,” Tam said.

“We’ve been having very strong quote activity, but then we also are seeing a hesitancy of prospects to commit to orders,” Jim Hartman, dealer principal of Truck Enterprises, a Kenworth truck dealer in Harrisonburg, Va., told TT.

“In general, that tells me that they have some reason not to be confident to go ahead right now,” said Hartman, Kenworth’s ATD board member.

“However, even though it has been somewhat slow in January and February, it wasn’t ‘terrible’ slow,” he said.

Hartman pointed out that Truck Enterprises still was dealing with the overflow of heavy deliveries scheduled for the fourth quarter.

“Ultimately, we will see a good flow of orders because of the age of the fleet and the rising economy,” he said. “Financing is no longer a problem as well, another reason for optimism.”

“We are about the same as everyone else, with orders down from last February, but it hasn’t created any major concern,” Ronald Remp, owner of Wheeling Truck Center, a Volvo truck dealer in Wheeling, W.Va., told TT.

“We’ve been seeing more of a pickup of used truck activity as we go into March,” Remp, Volvo’s ATD board member, added. “New trucks are still slow for us . . . but life is good.”

“We believe the decrease in February 2012 Class 8 truck orders is due to normal order fluctuation and is related to long order-to-build times for Class 8 vehicles,” David Hames, DTNA’s general manager of marketing and strategy, told TT.

Other truck makers did not respond to requests for comments on February order numbers.


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