Truck orders strong as fleets chase healthy freight rates

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Updated Mar 4, 2021
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Tight capacity has caused spot rates to spike from already elevated levels, and contract rates are rising, leaving fleets with plenty of cash to spend on new trucks.

Class 8 net truck orders climbed 3% last month to 44,000 units, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by FTR, and surged 209% over February 2020.

February 2021 was the second-highest total ever for the month of February and orders for the previous 12 months now total 338,000 units.

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FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles Don Ake said orders have been prodded by "tremendous pent-up demand for trucks" and intense pressure on freight hauling capacity to get more trucks into service. However, the supply of new trucks is limited due to component and part shortages.  In response, fleets continue to place orders in elevated volumes to try to acquire as many tractors as possible.

"There are severe bottlenecks in the supply chain involving computer chips, wiring harnesses, and a whole host of various parts," Ake said. "OEMs are under intense pressure to deliver as many vehicles as they can, as soon as they can."

Tight capacity has caused spot rates to spike from already elevated levels, and contract rates are rising, leaving fleets with plenty of cash to spend on new equipment.

"They desperately need trucks, so they are ordering at near-record levels," Ake added. "The supply chain is so dysfunctional right now and there are so many parts affected, it is difficult to predict when the logjam breaks loose."

Ake noted the COVID-19 vaccine should help component manufacturers find more workers, but there are also lengthy waits at the ports causing delays on imported parts.

Uncertain build times for new trucks has helped boost the used truck market. Truck dealers retailed an average of 5.2 trucks per rooftop in January according to data complied by NADA – 0.2 truck higher than December, and a continuation of the relatively strong performance of the second half of 2020. Month-over-month, late-model trucks brought 3.8% more money in January.