Why Are Heavy Duty Truck Orders So Low In North America?

The ongoing slump that had begun in October 2018 had started to affect the Class 8 truck market in early 2019. While there were a few months during the year where orders for heavy-duty trucks peaked – although not as high as the previous two years, it was all in all a slow year for the industry.  

How bad is the situation? 

An article in Wolf Street shared numbers released by the FTR Transportation Intelligence for 2019. According to the report: during the year there were 179,000 orders for Class 8 trucks. This was a drastic reduction of 64% when compared to the 497,000 orders during 2018. The difference in the orders in just the span of a year is telling of the difficulties that the trucking manufacturing industry is set to face until the freight market stabilizes. 

More recently, on February 19, 2020, in a write up on the issue Freight Waves shared: “The ratio of retails sales of Class 8 trucks to inventory in January 2020 ranked second-highest in the industry history, trailing only the worst month of the Great Recession a decade ago”, signaling that the heavy-duty vehicle market may continue to experience a downward trend for some more time. 

What’s the cause?

The cause of the current turmoil faced by the Class 8 truck manufacturing industry can be broadly bifurcated into two parts. 

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks.

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks. If the sector is doing well, there is a demand to increase the fleet size, hence more orders for new trucks. On the other hand, when it is experiencing a slowdown, trucking companies hold back on increasing their fleet size – exactly what is happening now. 

The current economic and political scenario in the country has put a strain on the manufacturing industry. The US and China trade war which began in 2018 and the tariffs imposed by the two countries on each other has been detrimental for business and allied service providers, including truck manufacturers. If we are to consider the disruption that the Coronavirus is causing in global trade, we can presume that it will be a while before the freight business picks up again. 

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction.

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction. Monitor Daily quotes Act Research’s President and senior analyst, Kenny Vieth explaining the downturn: “After peak sales and build in 2019, significant declines are ahead in 2020, as heavy-duty sales and build follow the net orders trend down. But if our forecast of ongoing (but slower) economic expansion holds in 2020, the drop will be a correction (along the lines of 2015 and 2016), not a devastating recession (as in 2008 and 2009).”  

What’s the impact? 

The declining order book for Class 8 trucks has already started to show its impact. According to reports, quite a few truck makers including larger manufacturers like Volvo, Mack Trucks, Daimler, and Navistar have already gone through a round off layoffs or are considering cutting their workforce and reducing their production plans. For example, Cummins, the engine maker is reported to have planned laying off around 2000 workers in early 2020 and Navistar has already gone through two rounds of layoffs last year. When the bigger companies are taking such drastic measures, it will be difficult for the smaller manufacturers to tide over this recessionary phase. 

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with.

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with. According to reports, the inventory to sales ratio was 3.9 months in January, which is much higher than the industry’s normal average of 2 to 2.5 months. Till this excess inventory is not sold off, the truck makers may have to further cut production plans and bear an additional burden of their operating funds. 

This problem doesn’t end at the manufacturers. Even the dealers who may have taken additional inventory of Class 8 trucks when the market was good, will now have to either hold the inventory till there are buyers in the market or sell their inventory at a discount. Either way, it will have a negative impact on their bottom line. 

Till the freight business does not pick up, it will be a rough ride for all the stakeholders in the ecosystem be it – shippers, carriers or truck manufacturers. 

However, companies that have built-in diversity in their supply chain – keeping in mind the cyclical and uncertain nature of trade and keep a rigorous check on it, have a better chance of surviving such downturns. If you want to know what are the weak points of your supply and how you can strengthen it, get in touch with our team for a supply chain analysis today!