The seeds for 2018's stellar year for trailer orders were sown as 2017 drew to a close. Orders for November and December were at least 10,000 more than any of the preceeding 10 months, setting the stage for a record start to this year. Monthly records fell for January and February, and April's orders were the most for that month since 2014.
A slight stumble in June only set the stage for a run of record months from July through November, with September (58,228) marking the all-time high for any month and October (55,399) not far off.
The surge in orders came as hikes in raw materials, trade tariffs and labor costs aligned at the same time. Trailer makers responded by raising prices, with one doing it three times in 2018. Their suppliers also faced rising costs, and pricing for components became more complicated under these conditions. In many cases, trailer makers had to defer talk of pricing on 2019 models.
With an "impressive" November tonnage increase of 0.4%, the segment is trending toward its strongest growth in 20 years. November's level of 118.9 marked the third consecutive sequential increase.
"The fact that tonnage rose in November after a strong October is impressive," said American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello. "With continued strength in November, tonnage growth is on pace to be the best year since 1998."
ATA calculates its seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index based on surveys of its membership, a practice that dates to the 1970s. Trucking represents 70.2% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation.
Class 8 Truck Sales
Class 8 sales in 2018 picked up the pace starting in June as issues with parts suppliers improved, and trucks moved into the hands of buyers and caught up with the big demand for new vehicles in the market.
Sales in October reached the highest point in more than three years. While November marked the sixth consecutive month of sales above the 20,000 threshold, only one month in both 2017 and 2016 managed to clear that mark. Truck makers late in the year said backlogs and business conditions remain very positive, signs of good things to come for Class 8 sales.