This story appears in the Oct. 21 print edition of Transport Topics.
Medium-duty truck sales rose 3.9% in September compared with a year earlier, but the month’s total of 12,524 was the industry’s lowest since February, according to WardsAuto.com.
U.S. retail sales of new Classes 4-7 vehicles surpassed the 12,057 units sold in September 2012, largely boosted by purchases of Class 6 trucks. It was the sixth straight month of year-over-year growth, but sales fell 7.3% from August’s total of 13,516.
Through the first nine months of the year, buyers have purchased 121,411 medium-duty trucks, up 8.3% from the previous year, Wards’ figures showed.
“It has been a very consistent market this year,” said Steve Tam, a vice president at ACT Research.
Improvement in the housing and construction markets has been “the biggest catalyst” in the medium-duty market’s year-over-year growth, he said.
Municipal fleets also have contributed “as some of that pent-up demand in government vehicles has been released,” Tam added.
ACT currently projects that full-year sales of medium-duty trucks in North America will total about 210,000 units, up 11% from the 188,500 sold last year, he said.
According to Ward’s data, last month’s total sales gain was led by a 16.9% jump in Class 6 purchases, which rose to 3,306 units, from 2,829 a year ago. The increase was driven by higher sales of Ford Motor Co.’s vehicles. Through nine months, cumulative industrywide sales have climbed 19.8%, to 36,418 this year.
Class 7 sales also improved in September, rising 3.5% year-over-year to 3,638 units. Year-to-date sales, however, have slipped 2.4% to 34,693.
Combined sales of Class 4 and Class 5 trucks last month dipped 2.3% from a year ago to 5,580. Cumulative sales for the year have increased 9%, to 50,300.
Despite the overall strength of the sector, Navistar International Corp.’s medium-duty sales fell to 1,681 units in September, down 33.6% from 2,531 in the same month last year.
However, the truck maker said it has seen significant growth in incoming truck orders after adding Cummins Inc.’s 6.7-liter ISB engine as an option in early September.
The engine is available for order in Navistar’s DuraStar trucks and IC Bus CE Series school buses, making them the truck maker’s first medium-duty vehicles with selective catalytic reduction emissions aftertreatment.
Navistar already has switched its Class 8 trucks to SCR after its previous engine strategy, which relied on exhaust gas recirculation, was unable to meet federal emissions standards.
Navistar said it received orders for more than 2,100 medium-duty trucks with the ISB in September.
The company estimated Class 6 and Class 7 market share for incoming orders at 31.7% in September, compared with 18.8% in August.
“September orders marked Navistar’s highest monthly order intake for Class 6-7 vehicles in almost two years, which strengthens our belief that the ISB will be the catalyst for improving our medium-duty business,” Bill Kozek, president of Navistar’s North American truck and parts business, said in an announcement.
The company said it is on schedule to begin delivering DuraStars with the ISB in December and CE Series school buses with that engine in late January.
While Navistar’s sales fell in September, other manufacturers saw growth, according to Ward’s data.
Freightliner Trucks sold 3,078 medium-duty vehicles in September, up 18% from 2,608 a year ago; Ford rose 2.5% to 4,098, from 3,998; Dodge-Ram sold 1,172 medium-duty trucks last month, 16.6% more than 1,005 last year; and Isuzu’s sales in Classes 3-5 grew to 1,117 units, up 29.3% from 864.