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April 12, 2021 4:30 PM, EDT

March US Class 8 Sales Jump 33.7%

But Supply Chain Woes Persist
Class 8 A Peterbilt 579. The manufacturer recently updated the truck's design. (Peterbilt Motors Co.)

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U.S. Class 8 retail sales in March jumped 33.7% to 22,031 as all truck makers posted gains compared with a year earlier, WardsAuto.com reported.

However, production delays are reportedly making it difficult for fleets to get the trucks they need when they need them.

In March 2020, Class 8 sales were 16,477, according to Wards. “This is the best monthly sales number since the last up-cycle ended late in 2019. It shows the demand for new trucks is robust and has room to grow,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles for FTR.

Through the first quarter, sales hit 54,222 — 14% higher compared with 47,582 in the 2020 period.

Among last month’s highlights:

  • Freightliner, a unit of Daimler Trucks North America, remained the sales leader on a gain of 47.7% to 8,839, good for a 40.1% market share.
  • Volvo Trucks North America, a Volvo Group brand, rose the next highest amount, 44.1% to 2,474 trucks, for an 11.2% share.
  • Peterbilt Motors Co. was third with a 41.6% improvement to 3,181 trucks and notched a 14.4% share. It is a brand of Paccar Inc.

“The overall U.S. retail sales in March were stronger than expected, but with the extraordinary customer demand, it’s obvious the supply chain constraints are still affecting the output,” Magnus Koeck, vice president of strategy at Volvo Trucks North America, told Transport Topics.

“The unbalance between demand and supply will continue throughout the year, but we are off to a good start in the first quarter of 2021 and we expect to continue to gain market share in the coming months,” he added, pointing to a 1.2% year-over-year gain in the U.S. in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, International, a brand of Navistar Inc., rose 21.6% to 2,294 and earned a 10.4% share.

Mack, also a Volvo Group brand, rose 16.3% to 1,633 and a 7.4% share.

Kenworth Truck Co., also a Paccar brand, rose 11.9% to 3,040 — a 13.8% share.

Western Star, a DTNA brand, rose 9.2% to 570 and earned a 2.6% share.

Ake noted Class 8 sales rebounded after a lackluster February’s total of 15,369.

Despite the supply chain difficulties, OEMs were able to significantly increase production in March, Ake added. “If this trend continues, look for retail sales in the second half of this year to match some of those impressive highs recorded in 2019.”

Steve Tam, vice president of ACT Research, said the company’s U.S. Class 8 retail sales forecast for 2021 is 248,400. That compares with 191,900 a year earlier as reported by Wards.

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ACT expects Class 8 sales in 2022 to increase to 284,000.

Despite the latest sales gains, fleets are having trouble getting new trucks — 73% of fleet respondents to a recent survey said their operation has experienced delay in taking delivery of new vehicles due to the shortage of semiconductor chips. According to preliminary results from a survey conducted by the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations, in 63% of these cases the delay has amounted to 60 or more days.

“It’s not that they don’t have trucks,” Tam said, “it’s just that they don’t have the trucks they want,” equipped with the latest technology.

A shortage of computer chips, tires, wire harnesses, stamped parts, steel, aluminum and more are hindering commercial vehicle production, experts said.

This comes as ACT said the business conditions for trucking were the best it had seen in 35 years.

“Spot rates continue to post new record levels and are currently inverted relative to contract rates, a clear signal that contract rates will continue to rise,” ACT President Kenny Vieth said in a release. “Additionally, low business inventories and backed-up ports on both coasts have created a backlog of freight, providing excellent forward visibility for continued strong demand for freight services.”

Jonathan Randall, senior vice president of North American sales at Mack, said growing freight demand and residential construction spending are fueling strong customer demand for Mack’s products across all industry segments. "Our Lehigh Valley operation is working hard to meet customer requirements in the face of significant supply chain constraints affecting automotive and truck manufacturers globally," he said.

Tam said one alternative choice to new trucks lies in the used Class 8 market. He said used truck sales in March are going to be “pretty impressive.”

Another choice is leasing or renting a truck.

“Just like everyone else, we are experiencing some delays in regard to obtaining new equipment to complement our North America fleet of over 328,000. Due to the various assembly component challenges the industry is experiencing this year, we are seeing more customers opt for the security of multiyear truck leases,” said Paul Rosa, senior vice president of procurement for Penske Truck Leasing.

Tam said it’s interesting how that continues to play out. “Back closer to COVID there was just enough economic uncertainty that people were using leasing and rental trucks as a hedge, for temporary capacity,” he said.

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

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