Truck orders slide, but seasonally a 'surprise'

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North American Class 8 net orders dipped in May to 13,300 units, according to preliminary data released by FTR, the lowest total since November 2021. May order activity was down 13% month-over-month and down 43% year-over-year.

Class 8 orders have totaled 270,000 units over the last 12 months, and OEMs are running out of build slots for 2022 and are still constrained by the supply chain snarls – especially semiconductors – and cannot increase build rates.

"The supply chain was making slight improvements in the last few months, but some of that progress stalled due to disruptions in China and Russia," said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. "The OEMs are not confident they can increase production in the second half of the year; therefore, they are not able to take more orders."

Truck orders are entering a seasonally weak time of year as OEMs typically have yet to open build schedules for next year, but May’s sequential decline in Class 8 orders from April actually reflects some mild improvement on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to ACT Research Vice President and Senior Analyst Eric Crawford,  

"So despite broader macro uncertainty about Russia/Ukraine, interest rates and potential recession," he said, "the prevailing theme in trucks is largely unchanged: long backlogs and supply-chain constrained production continue to keep new orders trending within a narrow range.”

With Class 8 backlogs stretching through 2022 and still no clear visibility on the easing of the all-things shortage, Crawford said May’s net orders reflect a mild upside surprise, "albeit one still in line with the ongoing conservative approach by OEMs looking to limit the risk of overbooking and under-building that plagued the industry in 2021," he said. 

Ake equated the current order trend for new trucks to ticket sales for a popular concert.

"At the beginning, sales are high because there are plenty of seats available. But at the end, fewer tickets are sold because there are fewer seats to sell," he said. "There just aren’t many build slots still open in 2022. Orders could even slide under 10,000 in the summer months before the cycle begins for next year.”

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Ake noted that demand for new trucks remains healthy, adding "freight is growing and fleets need more trucks to keep up with customer demands and to trade in older vehicles. The supply of new trucks has been running way behind demand for over a year now and many fleets need to catch up to their replacement cycles," he said.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]