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October 13, 2020 10:15 AM, EDT

September Class 8 Sales Highest for the Year

Sales Clear 19,000 but Still Down 32.3% Compared to Year Ago
Kenworth trucks on a lotHeavy-duty sales last month hit 19,126, down 32.3% compared with the historic September 2019 peak of 28,258 units. Kenworth Truck Co. had the second-most sales with 2,800. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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U.S. Class 8 retail sales in September climbed above 19,000 to the highest point of the year but still were down nearly 33% compared with year-ago levels when sales reached an all-time monthly record, WardsAuto.com reported.

Heavy-duty sales last month hit 19,126, down 32.3% compared with the historic September 2019 peak of 28,258 units.

The previous monthly sales record was 26,462, set in December 2006.

“Bottom line, it was a good number but we need to continue to see good numbers,” Steve Tam, vice president of ACT Research, said with an eye on year-to-date sales.

Sales through September were 133,921, down 36.7% from 211,720 a year earlier, according to Wards.

“So it looks like the market has room to run into the end of the year,” Tam said. “I think carriers will do that. There is nothing in the underlying structure that suggests they are backing off anytime soon.”

Freight and rates are encouraging, he said, and third-quarter results for publicly traded carriers are going to be “jaw-dropping good, it looks like. That just fans the flames of what we are seeing here.”

Other financial analysts agreed.

One noted that rate outlooks are approaching 10% gains year-over-year as the 2021 bid season draws closer.

Another analyst said the shortage of drivers is holding things back as inventories of goods remain low with lots of freight to service.

Meanwhile, Volvo Trucks North America was the sole truck maker to notch increased sales in September compared with the 2019 period. They rose 0.5% to 1,960. VTNA is a brand of Volvo Group.

Conditions in September remained much like those in August — the U.S. market is surprisingly strong and expectations are for the longhaul market to continue to bounce back, said Magnus Koeck, vice president of strategy, marketing and brand management for VTNA.

Add to that dealer orders climbing as Class 8 inventory falls, customers seeking increased fuel efficiency, and safety and connectivity features in new trucks, and so “we look forward to a strong finish in 2020 and a good start to 2021,” Koeck said.

Freightliners

Freightliners remains the market leader in sales. (Freightliner)

Freightliner, a brand of Daimler Trucks North America, remained the market leader with 7,713 sales, down 33.8% compared with a year earlier.

“Our industry is experiencing a continued recovery as we head into the fourth quarter, and in talking with our customers we know they are seeing measured growth and increasing confidence,” said Richard Howard, senior vice president of on-highway sales for DTNA. “Even before the COVID-19 crisis we were expecting the market to normalize in 2020 from the ‘mega-cycle’ of the past few years, and we are extremely pleased that we can continue to provide the absolute best experience for our customers in any market.”

Howard emphasized, in the current business climate, the focus on total cost of ownership is even more critical now than ever.

Kenworth Truck Co., a unit of Paccar Inc., had the second-most sales with 2,800, off 26.9% from the 2019 period. Paccar’s Peterbilt Motors Co., with 2,686 sales, slipped in behind Kenworth and was down 27.8%.

International, a brand of Navistar Inc., sold 2,256 units, a drop of 37.2% compared with the 2019 period.

Mack Trucks, also a Volvo Group brand, had sales of 1,319, down 52.8%.

That was the second-highest monthly retail sales figure this year for Mack, and reflected “demand growth across all segments,” said Jonathan Randall, Mack Trucks senior vice president of North American sales and commercial operations.

Western Star, also a DTNA brand, had sales of 391, down 45.5%.

In the meantime, Tam said the lack of drivers for the trucks already on hand is likely to hamstring further growth when the service-related portion of the economy returns on the heels of an eventual COVID vaccine. Freight will continue to grow, “putting the squeeze on available trucks.”

ACT noted the industry has regained just 25% of the jobs lost in March and April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, September was a stellar month for the industry on key fronts, said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR.

He pointed to North American Class 8 preliminary orders above 31,000. Preliminary U.S. trailer orders soared to 52,000, the third-highest monthly level ever.

“We are stepping up after the bottom in May. It’s been a progressive increase every month,” in those two order categories, plus retail sales. “So September has been a very good month for the industry,” Ake said.

In September 2019, Freightliner reported a surge in Class 8 sales and a 41.2% share — larger that month than the next three brands combined — as supply constraints it had been experiencing at the time eased.

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