INDIANAPOLIS — Sales of Class 8 tractors are expected to grow as much as 20% in 2018 as big-fleet truck buyers begin spending again after having reduced their capital expenditures dramatically in 2016 and 2017, executives said at the National Truck Equipment Association’s annual Work Truck Show here.
“We expect to see a significant bounce for tractor sales in 2018 as big fleets [more than 500 trucks] return to the market,” said Steven Latin-Kasper, director of market data and research for NTEA, during a session on the outlook of the work truck industry.
That bounce may be short-lived, however, as Class 8 sales may fall off again slightly in 2019 due to saturation, Latin-Kasper added.
About 60% of Class 8 new-vehicle registrations over the past two years came from smaller fleets — those with fewer than 500 trucks, said Andrej Divis, director of Medium and Heavy Commercial Vehicle Research with IHS, speaking with Latin-Kasper. “We see signs that the big buyers are coming back in 2018, but we’re not sure how long that will last,” he said.
Lease/rental and general-freight fleets typically buy the most Class 8 trucks, Divis said. And while that may not be much of a surprise, in many years up to half of the new-vehicle registrations to lease/rental companies are for Class 8 trucks, he noted. Further, lease/rental fleets typically are the first companies to begin buying trucks when the economy improves while their best customers, the general-freight fleet buyers, wait to see if the recovery is sustainable before jumping back into the market, he said.
Spending by state and local municipalities is expected to increase slightly in 2018, but that money may go toward building more schools rather than highway and street work, typically stronger drivers of vocational truck sales, as governments hold off buying equipment, Latin-Kasper said.
“Spending on highways and streets is the problem,” he said. “There is massive uncertainty for all local [governments] budgeting because of uncertainty from the federal government.”
New housing construction, another driver of vehicle sales, albeit in the light- and medium-duty weight classes, is expected to grow about 4.5%, according to the National Association of Home Builders.