Although October orders were less than anticipated, overall 2015 has been a strong year for Class 8 truck sales, and should end just short of last year’s healthy pace of more than 220,000 in the U.S.
Most industry segments are busy hauling and delivering all manner of cargo, and they’re using profits to renew their fleets, truck builders say. The activity should continue well into next year, though the driver shortage is an impediment.
“Sales in 2015 have been very good, and we’ve seen strong customer demand for our trucks across all market segments,” says Wade Long, director of product marketing at Volvo Trucks. “Growth has been particularly strong in the long-haul highway application, which makes up roughly half of the Class 8 market.”
Low fuel prices and steady freight rates have led to more profits for fleets, he says, which “has enabled many customers to purchase newer, more efficient trucks to replace older models.”
“The economy is still strong,” agrees Anthony Gausle, on-highway product manager at Peterbilt Motors. “Fleets are ordering for the long term. But the driver shortage is increasing. More drivers would mean more trucks [sold and in service], more loads carried and more money made.”
One thing that’s happening is fleets are spacing out their orders more. “One of the trends we’re noticing is what you could call a ‘managed buying pattern,’” says Curtis Dorwart, Mack Trucks’ vocational products marketing manager. “That is, purchasing smaller quantities of trucks, but on a more regular, periodic basis. This is especially true at the smaller vocational fleets, which seem to be more deliberate and structured in their buying habits.”
For the vocational truck industry, 2015 has been a year of growth, according to Ron Schultz, on-highway truck sales and marketing manager at Caterpillar. “We are seeing increased demand in several industries, especially in paving and construction applications. The highest demand seems to be for dump trucks that will be working on infrastructure development, construction projects, and asphalt/aggregates applications. We see this type of demand continuing throughout 2016.”
About the only segment not buying is oil and gas drilling and production, where steeply falling petroleum and natural gas prices worldwide have caused a slowdown in activity.
“We’ve seen a reversal of the buying situation from earlier in this decade, thanks to low oil prices,” says Stu Russoli, Mack’s highway and powertrain products marketing manager. “At the beginning of this decade, the oil and gas fields were booming with exploration, drilling and other activities that required a number of vocational trucks. At the same time, just about every other industry that utilizes vocational trucks was experiencing decreased sales of dumps, concrete mixers, concrete pumpers and so on.
“Fast forward to today, and I’m hearing the dump body guys tell me they are well into 2016 in terms of production slots. The refuse market has shown some of this increase as well, although that segment is fairly stable come good times or bad.”
Lack of qualified workers is putting a pinch on production among upfitters, the outfits that craft work-truck bodies.
“It is an industry-wide problem, though not as discussed as the truck driver shortage,” says Dorwart. “Lack of skilled or semi-skilled labor hinders further production throughput and the ability to meet customer demands.”
Truck builders are all promoting telematics capabilities that allow real-time monitoring of vehicle performance, diagnosing problems as they occur and alerting customers to them, and scheduling repair visits to dealers.
Meanwhile, builders are expanding service capabilities with fast-lane service for relatively minor problems. Every company now pledges that “uptime” for its vehicles is becoming longer – something that will pleasantly surprise fleet managers who’ve long complained about lack of timely service at truck dealers.
Issues affect truck choices
Driver recruitment and retention continue to affect the types of trucks customers buy, says Mary Aufdemberg, director of product marketing at Freightliner Trucks.
“We’re seeing a shift that addresses changing driver demographics. As more and more Generation X, Y, Millennials and women enter the industry, we’re providing solutions that resonate with them, features that have been offered by the automotive industry for years, including mobile applications for driver coaching and predictive maintenance.
“Fleets and drivers are also more interested in health and wellness, and we’ve seen an increase in this trend through the acceptance of the Freightliner In-cab Training (FIT) system, as well as the addition of more comfort features in the cab,” she says. Safety resonates with drivers and fleet executives, and Freightliner is seeing more demand for features such as lane-departure warning systems.
Among components that address the driver shortage are automated manual transmissions. Some builders report take rates for AMTs at 70% in highway models, many of which are operated by long-haul truckload fleets where driver turnover has always been the greatest.
Automated transmissions also contribute to better fuel economy because they allow the worst drivers to turn in fuel mileage almost as good as the best drivers, says Evan Vijithakumara, product strategy manager for Eaton Corp., maker of UltraShift Plus and Advantage AMTs.
Many OEMs echo those comments as they encourage sales of their own AMTs. Some have collaborated with Eaton in developing precise and efficient powertrains using their own engines or those from Cummins and Eaton’s transmissions. Allison’s TC10 automatic has had limited reception, as only Navistar now offers it; but Allison says it’s working on agreements with others.
Jeff Sass, senior vice president for North American sales and marketing at Navistar, says a highway type AMT from Eaton costs $2,000 to $3,000 over a comparable manual transmission, and the TC10 is priced at $4,000 to $5,000.
Steve Clough, president of Arrow Truck Sales, says automated and automatic transmissions now return some of their price premiums at trade-in time, because second owners recognize their benefits. They brought nothing and were even avoided in the past.
Proprietary powertrains are gaining some momentum in the market.
Freightliner emphasizes diesels, transmissions and axles from Detroit, a Daimler Trucks sister company. “Rather than spec’ing an engine and building around it, customers are looking at the complete powertrain solution, and considering it along with truck aerodynamics,” says Freightliner’s Aufdemberg.
Mack has stayed on this tack since its inception more than a century ago. Over the years probably 95% of all its trucks were sold with Mack engines, and many with Mack transmissions, axles and suspensions, as well. It has brought production of Mack-designed and -branded axles into the same plant in Hagerstown, Md., where Mack and Volvo engines are built.
“We continue to see very strong interest from customers in our integrated powertrains and the benefits they bring in terms of durability, performance and fuel efficiency,” says Dorwart. “You’ve heard us say it before, but we firmly believe that components designed to work together simply work better.”
Proprietary diesels have gained sales as the truck builders’ own engines are proving to be reliable and economical. An example is Paccar’s MX-13, sold by Kenworth and Peterbilt. Half or more of the two truck makers’ many models now are spec’d with it, though they continue to offer Cummins ISX power in 12- and 15-liter sizes. The recently announced Paccar MX-11 should grab more sales.
“The MX-11 is the sweet spot for many operators,” says Jason Skoog, assistant marketing manager at Kenworth. “It’s 400 pounds lighter (than the MX-13 and the ISX12), and still provides good horsepower and torque.” The new diesel goes into production in January, and the Paccar plant in Mississippi will make MX-11s for North America and Europe, where DAF, the sister division in Holland, will use them in certain models.
Similar advantages are claimed for 13-liter engines against 15-liter models. But whether that constitutes a trend depends on the builder. Mack and Volvo have declared the 13-liter the engine of the future, if not today. Freightliner says it continues to see bigger demand for 15-liter Detroit and Cummins diesels than for smaller engines.
That brings up Caterpillar’s sole reliance on the Navistar-built N13/CT-13 diesel for its Cat Trucks. It maintains that the 12.4-liter engine does most jobs more than adequately, but announced last summer that it would field a 15-liter engine to expand the vehicle product line to heavier duty assignments. However, it won’t be another Navistar product, because Navistar is happy with its partnership with Cummins for the ISX15. It won’t be a Cat diesel, because the company won’t get back into the truck-engine business. What’s left in available truck diesels – an ISX15 painted yellow? We’ll see.
Low oil prices have pulled down the cost of diesel fuel and cooled enthusiasm for alternative fuels, builders say. Natural gas, whether compressed or liquefied, still costs less than diesel, but the spread is less and so are the savings. Thus buying new and expensive gas-powered trucks is less feasible, though some customers still are, and fueling stations continue to grow in number. Those already using natural gas continue to save money and have avoided maintenance problems associated with increasingly complex diesel exhaust equipment. One unknown is resale values, but they will be a relatively inexpensive way for believers in “green” power to enter the arena.
Used trucks constitute a separate topic, but their strong prices in recent years are moderating as large groups of them come on the market from fleets with three- to five-year trade cycles, says Arrow’s Clough. They bought new 2012-model trucks in 2011, a good year for new-truck sales, and have begun trading them in. Even larger numbers will populate used-truck lots as time goes on, because sales in subsequent years steadily grew. So what’s selling now will be offered as used trucks three to five years from now, and there should be plenty.
Long-nose CT680 tractor and truck with forward-set steer axle and two trim levels joined the Cat Truck vocational series last summer. Late last year came the CT681, with a forward-set steer axle but a plain nose preferred by operators of dump and concrete mixer trucks and snow plows, Cat says. The series began in 2011 with the axle-back CT660 (also available as a glider kit). Cat Trucks have been built by Navistar in Mexico, but that agreement will end in December 2016 and Cat will begin assembling them at a plant in Texas. Initially the Cat-built trucks will be the same as now. They use Navistar’s 12.4-liter N13 diesel, which Cat calls the CT13. A new 15-liter diesel has been promised, but its origin has not been announced. Cat’s own CX31 full-automatic is the most popular transmission, followed by Eaton manual and UltraShift Plus AMTs.
Freightliner is the dominant builder of heavy and medium-duty trucks. Cascadia, its main Class 8 road tractor, comes as a daycab and with mid- and high-roof sleepers in several lengths. The Cascadia Evolution has advanced aerodynamics and is its most fuel-efficient model. Both are available with Detroit 12.8-liter DD13, 14.8-liter DD15 and 15.6-liter DD16 diesels, often paired with the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission and Detroit axles. Cummins’ 11.9-liter ISX12 and 14.9-liter ISX15 diesels are available with Eaton UltraShift Plus and Advantage AMTs. Detroit Assurance safety technologies are part of the builder’s product offerings. Severe-duty models are beefed up for on/off-road service, and include the 108SD, 114SD and 122SD. The 122 is available with up to 600 hp and 2,050 lb-ft, and heavy-haul tractor duty is among its applications. Certain Freightliner models are available with natural gas engines from Cummins Westport.
International Truck has found sales success by reintroducing the Cummins ISX15 in its Class 8 models and employing Cummins’ medium-duty ISB6.7 in its Class 6-7 trucks. Proprietary engines with SCR gear from Cummins Emissions Solutions include the N13 and N9/N10. ProStar is the main highway tractor and International’s most aerodynamic and fuel efficient model; it comes with 14.9-liter ISX15 or 12.4-liter N13. The retro-styled LoneStar premium model and the traditionally styled 9900i are powered only by the ISX15. The TranStar regional tractor comes with the N13 or Cummins Westport natural gas engines. Vocational models are the PayStar 5900 (soon to be relaunched as a premium truck called HX), with N13 or ISX15 diesels, and WorkStar 7000 series, with N13, 9.3-liter N9/N10, and Cummins ISB6.7. The MaxxForce DT has been dropped.
The T680, with its wider cab and other advances, has become Kenworth’s high-selling road tractor, replacing the still-available T660. The T680 recently added a new, integral 76-inch mid-roof sleeper configuration that offers tank, flatbed and heavy haul operations a lightweight, fuel-efficient option. Standard with the Paccar MX-13 engine, the T680 also is available as a day cab or with a 52-inch mid-roof sleeper. The T880, named 2015 Vocational Truck of the Year in the American Truck Dealers competition, is Kenworth’s vocational flagship truck. It is popular in dump, mixer, heavy haul, oilfield, logging and refuse applications. The durable C500 and K500 are used mainly for off-road service in North American and overseas. Kenworth also offers the T440 and T470 that often are equipped as heavy-duty trucks using the Cummins-built Paccar PX-9. Various KWs are available with the new 10.8-liter Paccar MX-11, the MX-13, and Cummins’ ISX12 and ISX15.
The Mack Pinnacle axle-back in sleeper-cab and daycab variants is Mack’s principle highway tractor, serving long-haul and regional users. All Pinnacle models come standard with the Mack mDrive AMT. The Pinnacle is also available in an axle-forward configuration to satisfy bridge-formula requirements or for customers desiring more traditional styling. Pinnacles use Mack’s MP series diesels in 10.8-liter MP7 and 12.8-liter MP8 versions. Vocational models include the Granite, TerraPro cabover and LR low-entry refuse cabover models. Granite and TerraPro are available with the MP7 and MP8, while the LR is available with the MP7. The Granite MHD uses only the Cummins 8.9-liter ISL9. For severe-duty applications, Mack’s Titan uses the 16.1-liter MP10. Pinnacle daycab, TerraPro and LR models are available with Cummins Westport natural gas engines. Mack’s GuardDog Connect telematics service monitors for critical fault codes that could lead to an unplanned visit to the dealer.
Model 579 tractor with Epiq package has all available aerodynamic fairings and gap covers to improve fuel efficiency by up to 14% over a base 579, Peterbilt says. Epiq uses an Apex optimized powertrain with a Paccar MX-13 diesel and Eaton Fuller Advantage automated transmission to improve fuel efficiency by up to 4%. The 579 comes in two hood lengths and uses separate sleeper boxes. Power is from Paccar MX-11 or MX-13, or Cummins ISX12 or ISX15 diesels, as well as the natural gas Cummins Westport ISX12 G. The long-hood 587 has a wider cab and integrated sleeper, and MX-13 or ISX15 power. The 389 has a long hood and MX-13 or ISX15 diesels and can be spec’d for on-highway and vocational applications. Other vocational trucks include the Model 567 with set-forward or set-back front axle, and MX-11, MX-13, PX-9 and Cummins ISX12 and ISX15 diesels, and ISX12 G. The low-cab forward 320 is available with PX-9, MX-11 or Cummins ISX12 diesels, or the ISX12 G.
In 2015, Volvo’s VNL 780 and other VNL highway tractors got smoother bumpers and chassis and roof fairings to reduce air turbulence around the vehicle’s exterior and improve airflow under the truck, around tires and the trailer gap. VNL and VNM series have long and medium-length hoods, respectively, and several sleeper options. The I-Shift AMT has a redesigned oil cooler that minimizes pumping losses and has quick disconnect lines for easy maintenance. Adaptive Loading, a 6x2 configuration featuring an automated lift axle in the tandem, can sense full, partial or empty loads and lower or raise to shoulder weight or reduce drag and save fuel. The VNX heavy-haul tractor uses the 16.1-liter D16 and is now available with a tridem rear axle group for greater traction. The vocational-focused VHD is available as a straight truck or tractor. The low-profile VAH daycab and sleeper, built on a VHD chassis, serves auto haulers. Volvo emphasizes its own D16 diesel and the higher-volume 10.8-liter D11 and 12.8-liter D13, but also offers the Cummins ISX15 diesel and Cummins Westport natural gas engines in certain VN models.
The Daimler premium brand’s 5700XE was introduced just a year ago as a distinctively styled aero model aimed at owner-operators and image-conscious fleets that also want good fuel economy. Wind tunnel tests show its aerodynamic performance is second only to Freightliner’s Cascadia series, the builder says. The 5700XE and traditionally styled 4900 are available with Detroit DD13, DD15, and DD16 engines, which can be mated to an array of manual transmissions as well as the Detroit DT12 automated transmission. The shorter 4800 comes only with the DD13, and can be spec’d with all-wheel drive options. The 4800 and 4900 models offer factory-installed twin-steer axles that are popular in crane and concrete mixer applications. The more compact 4700, which is gaining market share in municipal and construction applications, uses the DD13 diesel or the smaller Cummins ISL9. The extreme-duty off-road 6900XD model can be powered with the Detroit DD15, DD16 or Tier 3 Detroit Series 60, or Cummins’ ISX15.