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December 24, 2012 6:30 AM, EST

Nov. Class 8 Sales Decline 15.6%, But 2012 Still Is Outpacing 2011

By Seth Clevenger, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 24 & 31 print edition of Transport Topics.

Retail heavy-duty truck sales in the United States fell 15.6% in November from a year ago, the third straight monthly decline, but continue to outpace 2011, WardsAuto.com reported.

Truck makers and their dealers sold 14,370 trucks last month, compared with 17,020 in November 2011. Through 11 months, sales are at 176,585 trucks, up 17.4% from 2011, Ward’s said.

For the month, five of the seven North American Class 8 brands sold fewer trucks than a year ago, with only Daimler Trucks North America’s Freightliner and Western Star brands posting gains.

Fleets are still “very cautious” about expanding capacity, said Bob Costello, chief economist for American Trucking Associations.

“If the economy were to surprise on the upside, there simply wouldn’t be enough trucks on the road to handle all the freight that would be coming at us,” he said in a recent webinar.

There also is a significant amount of pent-up replacement demand that eventually will show up in the market, Costello said.

He added that rising prices are forcing some fleets with older models to sell two used vehicles to get one new truck, while others are turning more to leasing.

Ward’s data showed Freightliner led the market in November with 5,313 trucks sold, a 9.1% gain from the same month in 2011.

Freightliner also added to its year-to-date lead, which stood at 58,489, a 24.9% increase from last year.

David Hames, DTNA’s general manager of marketing and strategy, said a combination of the trucks’ low cost of ownership, “proven engine technology and superior reliability and performance for a wide variety of applications” has enabled them to gain market share throughout the year.

Sales for DTNA’s Western Star brand rose 14.6% from a year ago to 196. For the year to date, Western Star has sold 2,344 trucks, up 29.4% from 2011.Paccar Inc.’s operating companies — Kenworth Truck Co. and Peterbilt Motors Co. — took second and third place, respectively, during November, displacing Navistar’s International brand, which fell to No. 4.

While Kenworth’s sales actually declined 5.7% to 2,221 units in November its 2012 total remained 28% higher than last year’s pace. Through 11 months, Kenworth has sold 24,971 trucks, the third highest among the North American brands.

Likewise, Peterbilt sold 1,988 trucks during the month, down 23.6% from the previous year. And year to date, the company ranked fourth with 24,568 sales, up 15.6% from 2011.

Navistar’s International brand slipped to fourth place in November with 1,957 trucks sold, a 39% drop from a year ago. However, International kept a firm hold on second place for year-to-date sales with 32,156. Through 11 months the company’s 2012 sales are flat, having sold 30 more trucks this year than the same timeframe in 2011.

Navistar’s Jack Allen, president of North America truck and parts, said during a Dec. 19 conference call that the company’s October orders were “very good” and that December could top that month, without giving specifics.

He also said that “the market remains choppy,” with an annualized order pace for the industry of fewer than 180,000 units during the last six months.

“We think the fundamentals remain in place for [a] recovery to happen,” Allen said. “It is just the economy that is holding that back from happening.”

Volvo Group’s two operating companies in North America — Volvo Trucks and Mack Trucks — took fifth and sixth place, respectively, in Ward’s sales totals.

Volvo Trucks’ sales dropped 43.2% to 1,441 in November, compared with 2,539 in the same month last year. However, the company’s year-to-date sales tally of 18,521 remains 4.8% higher than 2011’s pace.

Volvo said it plans to trim production rates through temporary downtime the weeks of Jan. 7 and Jan. 14 at its Dublin, Va., facility. Company spokesman Brandon Borgna said Volvo will continue to monitor the market and adjust production accordingly moving forward.

Göran Nyberg, Volvo Trucks’ president of North American sales and marketing, cited carriers’ delayed replacement cycles as a factor that could boost sales.

“Fuel efficiency and uptime are key for any operator, which of course drives replacement with the newer generation of trucks,” he said.

Volvo’s best estimate is that 2013 will be “a flat year” or “slightly improved,” Nyberg said.

Mack’s sales dipped 1.3% to 1,254 during the month, but the company maintained the strongest year-to-date growth of the North American brands. Through November, Mack has sold 15,525 trucks in 2012, up 38.5% from 2011.

John Walsh, Mack’s vice president of marketing, said the company continues to get “very favorable responses” to its mDRIVE automated manual transmission, Mack engines and Pinnacle trucks.

Senior Reporter Rip Watson contributed to this story.