06:32 PM

Growing Again

Through May of this year, orders for new Class 8 trucks in North America stood more than 165 percent above the level they attained during the same period in 2010. In April alone, a five-year high was recorded, and while May orders fell from that lofty mark, they still jumped 85 percent compared with the same month one year before.

Needless to say, pointing to healthy order and production levels for Class 8 trucks this year, industry analysts are optimistic. Boosting their outlook even higher are recent announcements by truck makers that they are adding employees and shifts, and expanding production to meet the higher level of demand.

Growth in commercial vehicle sales is not limited to power units. Orders for trailers have also been on an upward swing. This year, March orders across the industry were 21 percent higher than in February and 33 percent above January. Trailer shipments in the first quarter of 2011 were up 109 percent compared to the same quarter in 2010.

Orders for trailers grew for 18 consecutive months through the first quarter of this year, and were almost double the level seen at the same point in 2010. Looking ahead, order backlogs have continued to grow, setting the stage for solid performance in the remainder of 2011 and potentially throughout 2012.

While all trailer segments are on the upswing, dry van orders and sales are leading the charge. This is attributable
directly to ongoing growth in demand for freight-carrying capacity in truckload markets. Currently, especially during the traditionally heavy summer shipping season, demand for freight-carrying capacity remains strong, leading many carriers to report being very close to, if not at, capacity.

Demand is also starting to surge for hauls of construction materials, traditionally handled on platform trailers. In the aftermath of the very severe 2011 winter, many long-planned building projects are only now able to proceed. It is a good possibility, therefore, that capacity in those markets will tighten even further this summer.

For tractors especially, some growth in orders is the result of pent up demand for replacement of aging fleets. In many cases, and especially in over-the-road markets, the economic decline caused carriers to keep vehicles in service longer than originally anticipated.

Other challenges to be addressed by fleets include fuel costs, which have soared in the past six months. Additionally, trucking companies are concerned about the costs of complying with recent government regulations related to the Hours of Service regulations and the effect of new safety compliance and reporting requirements. Not to be overlooked is the need to recruit, hire and train a steady supply of quality drivers.

In reality, freight tonnage, truck and trailer sales have all been growing for more than a year, serving as they always have as a leading indicator of economic growth and pointing to a more profitable and successful future.