Mack says long-haul spec'd highway tractors have made up 40% of its truck builds so far in 2018.  Photo: Jim Park

Mack says long-haul spec'd highway tractors have made up 40% of its truck builds so far in 2018. Photo: Jim Park

With truck order intake expected to hit near record levels in 2018, Mack's senior vice president for North American sales, Jonathan Randall, is worried about who will drive all the trucks he is building.

Speaking on the opening day of the 2018 Mid-America Trucking show in Louisville, Kentucky, Randall said the construction sector is seeing record spending, lots of job growth and correspondingly strong order intake from the sector, but he says there are a couple of potentially dampening factors on the horizon. "There's a shortage of labor in that sector today, or more specifically, a shortage of construction workers," he said. "Who is going to drive all the trucks that we're selling?"

Randall says GDP is expected to grow by 2.8% this year, and the strong economy is well reflected in the strong order intake the industry is seeing this year. To say the economy is robust would probably be an understatement based on what Mack is seeing in truck orders.

"Strong freight, tight capacity and rising rates make me think we're headed for sales figures of 280,000 trucks the NAFTA Class 8 truck market," Randall said. "And I will tell you, there's significant upward pressure on that number, based on our order intake. When you look at a 280,000-truck market, it's not all replacement. Some of that is growth."

Much of that growth is based on the highway market making a comeback, and that's tipping the scales at Mack, which has traditionally been stronger on the vocational side.  During the first half of 2016, deliveries of highway trucks represented about 40-41% of Mack's volume. 

But in a rolling five-month period from mid-2017 until February 2018, highway orders accounted for 48% of Mack's order intake. "Long-haul and fleets are driving this order intake," Randall said, adding, "Retail sales are now starting to catch up with fleet orders. We are experiencing an influx of 70-inch sleeper orders and orders for day-cab tractors. In fact, day-cab tractor orders are now outpacing orders for the straight trucks."

Preparing for Growth Mack Trucks has made significant investments in production capacity efficiency in recent years, with more than $40 million pumped into the Hagerstown plant since 2012 and $84 million in the Lehigh Valley production facility. "And our dealer network has invested over $600 million since 2010, which has given us 53% more service bays and 431% more Mack Master techs," Randall said. "I'd argue that you'll find more master techs in our network that anyone else's at the moment."

The investment by the dealers is already paying dividends in faster repair times and less time on the shop, Randall added.

"We took a long look at the cost of customer downtime, and we have made significant improvements in getting the trucks back on the road sooner," said Randall. "We have added 235 service bays dedicated to repairs that take less than four hours. When we began this research, we found that an average repair taking about two hours was actually taking close to four days to complete. We now have that down to less than two days, and we continue to drive quick-action repairs – almost triage – through our service bays. We want to make sure we are dedicating the right levels of work to the right bays and to the right technicians." The Certified Uptime repair process has resulted in a 21% reduction in repair time, he said.

The Anthem model went into production in early February, and Randall says there are now about 500 of them in service and on dealer lots.

Response to the Anthem is everything the company was expecting it to be. "The response from the customers has been terrific and the order intake has been very positive," he said. "Our order intake so far this year has already surpassed out total on-highway sales for last year."