New commercial truck registrations fell 8 percent in the first quarter compared to a year ago, but an increase in Class 8 registrations points the way to improvements the rest of the year, according to figures from Polk Commercial Vehicle Solutions.
While new registrations overall were off in the first quarter, Class 8 registrations were up.
While new registrations overall were off in the first quarter, Class 8 registrations were up.

"When comparing new registrations in the first quarter of the 2010 calendar year to the entire 2009 calendar year, only the second quarter (April-June) of the 2009 calendar year had lower new registrations than those reported in the first quarter of 2010," according to the March edition of the Commercial Vehicle Market Intelligence Report, released by Polk.

Polk said new registrations for Classes 3-8 vehicles were 79,700 units in the first quarter. March registrations were down 0.8 percent from March 2009, compared to 6.1 percent and 15.6 percent declines in February and January, respectively.

Class 8 was the only category to have positive growth in new registrations for the first quarter. Class 8 new registrations were up 2.5 percent from the first quarter of 2009. The report said the increase was driven by a 7.1 percent boost in new registrations by fleets of five or fewer units. It was also impacted by the 9.3 percent boost in new registrations by fleets of 500 or more.

"The fact remains that New Registrations of Commercial Vehicles remain depressed; however, it does appear to be stabilizing versus declining further," the report said.

Expect Gradual Improvement

The Polk Index of U.S. Commercial Vehicle Activity shows that the rest of 2010 will see a gradual increase in new registrations. The Index indicates new registrations for all classes to be in the area of 340,000 units for 2010, a gain of about 4.8 percent from 2009. For Class 8 vehicles, Polk predicts 2010 new registrations will grow by more than 8 percent from 2009.

The caveat: "For new commercial registrations to increase for the balance of the calendar year, there will need to be significant improvement in the general economic conditions and construction," the report said.

Isuzu saw the most growth in the first quarter, with new registrations up 47.5 percent, followed by Mitsubishi Fuso, up 36 percent. Kenworth gained 15.2 percent, while Peterbilt saw registrations increase 9.5 percent during the quarter. Ford remained the top manufacturer in the commercial vehicle market.

Used Gains Market Share

According to the report, there were twice as many used vehicle transactions as there were new vehicle transactions during the first quarter. The report found that 67 percent of the registrations were due to the transfer of a registration to a new owner, rather than the first time registration of a new vehicle.

"This is an indication of the availability of clean used equipment and the desire of owners to upgrade their equipment," according to Polk.

Over the first quarter, used vehicle registrations were 162,000 units, 37 percent higher than the 2009 quarter.

This story edited 9:30 a.m. EDT 5/19/2010 for clarity.