With the predictions in the fourth quarter of 2013 that the coming year would be a banner year for trucking unit sales and tonnage volumes, so far both are proving to be accurate forecasts.
Preliminary data released in June by FTR shows May 2014 North American Class 8 truck net orders at 25,605 units, a 14% year-over-year increase and the strongest May since 2006. That should not surprise anyone as 2006 was the last full year seemingly unaffected by the looming recession of 2007.
Class 8 truck orders have experienced 16 consecutive months with year-over-year increases. Backlogs remain at very high levels, and OEMs will continue to increase build rates in response to this growing demand. Class 8 truck orders for the latest six-month period through May annualize to 343,000 units.
There are a lot of reasons for the big sales numbers. Most notably there has been an aging fleet appearing throughout the trucking industry for a much longer period than previous decades. This is clearly a precaution stemming from the concerns of economic instability and the high cost of newer, more technically efficient vehicles.
“The positive performance of Class 8 orders in May met our expectations with the volume right in line with our forecast," said Don Ake, FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles. "The recent order activity confirms that the market has some real strength. We do expect Class 8 orders to slow down in the summer as generally is the case, but they will remain above last year’s levels.”
Another big part of the growing drumbeat for Class 8 sales is the need for drivers in the industry. Tonnage volumes have been growing to near capacity for many fleets, which cannot get new trucks or new drivers in-house fast enough.
Con-way Truckload recently purchased 550 new Kenworth, Volvo, Freightliner and Navistar tractors. That is a huge number by any fleet measurement, but it also illustrates the economic impact the trucking shortage can have in a trickle down to the truck manufacturers.
The Con-way Truckload deal also was significant because of the number of automatic transmissions on the new trucks. Virtually all of the trucks have automatics — a growing trend that is being used to attract new drivers to the industry and to make it easier to adapt to the needs on truck drivers.
Included in this purchase are the Eaton UltraShift, the Volvo I-Shift and the Detroit DT12 automated transmissions. Con-way officials said the decision was “steered in part by more and more driver requests for automatics, along with the company's desire to lower the barrier of entry into a driving career.”
"We've found that many younger drivers looking to enter the industry prefer the automatic transmissions because it removes the perception that operating a truck is outside of their ability," said Gretchen Jackson, recruiting manager at Con-way Truckload. "Given the current driver shortage, we want to provide career opportunities for those who have an interest but may think the job is unattainable."