North American Class 8 orders limped out of 2018, posting just 21,000 units – the lowest total since August 2017. However, it’s hard to look back unfavorably on last year considering heavy orders for the past 12 months totaled a staggering 482,000 units, according to FTR.
ACT Research, who pegged Class 8 order totals for 2018 at 490,100 units, notes last year crushed the previous high-water mark of 390,000 units in 2004.
“It is important to put slowing orders into context,” adds Kenny Vieth, ACT’s president and senior analyst. “With a 300,000-plus unit backlog and a solidly booked build schedule, the drop in orders is in-line with expectations.”
The December slide in order activity was expected as fleets ordered mostly to secure a shrinking number of available build slots during the second half of 2019. Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles, says there are few build slots remaining this year and he expect orders totals to remain low the next several months.
“Order rates right now are not that relevant because of the record-breaking totals recorded in June and July last year,” he says, adding backlogs will continue to fall but will remain lofty at the beginning of 2019. “Fleets got a jump on ordering to reserve 2019 build slots, so orders had to fall off at some point, and December was the start of it.”
With orders rates reduced, Ake says they are not a good barometer of long-term demand.
“All the orders are in, the question now is how many of these orders will actually be built,” he asks. “We will have to watch the build rates and retail sales closely for clues about the future strength of the Class 8 market.
FTR forecasts freight growth to ease back some from the 2018 peak, but the expectation is that it will remain vibrant for the first half of 2019.
“At some point, the economy and freight growth will moderate and truck builds will decline,” Ake says. “Then order cancellation rates will rise.”