A quarterly survey of a varied panel of trucking fleets finds continued strong plans to buy more trucks, especially among larger fleets, and among private fleets looking to address capacity and rate issues – but those truck orders are in many cases about other things than adding capacity, because drivers continue to be in short supply.

The second quarter Fleet Sentiment Report by CK Commercial Vehicle Research reports that its buying index, tracked since 2008, while not at peak, is "rolling along at a nice solid clip with a 117.8 reading." The index tracks both how many fleets are planning purchases of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and trailers, as well as the volume of those planned orders.

In addition, CKCVR’s “How’s Business” rating reflects the positive outlook for carriers. The survey asks, “Considering all the factors that impact your company, on a scale of 1-5 (with being poor and 5 being excellent) in your opinion, what is the overall outlook for your fleet in the next three months?” After setting a record during the January survey, the reading fell a bit in Q2, but still remains at a high 4.29 on a scale of 1-5.

Basically, the same percentage of survey participants that planned to purchase trucks during the first quarter plan to place orders during Q2. So far in 2018, larger fleets are tending to place orders more than the smaller fleets.

Private fleets are definitely active in purchasing new equipment. While they made up 32% of the reporting group, they represented 37% of the fleets that are planning to place orders. Comments from the private fleets mentioned the increasing rates from common carriers as a strong incentive for them to increase their own fleet. The capacity problem plays into that as well, as company brands are impacted (negatively) by any delivery problems.

Some of the other reasons fleets cited for their equipment-buying plans included:

  • Newer trucks are more reliable, and more uptime means more productivity and essentially more capacity
  • New trucks help recruit and retain drivers
  • The new tax law has freed up some capital
  • Booming economy and good business environment for fleets
  • Locking in build slots in a “hot” order climate
  • Concern about getting ahead of rising equipment prices
  • Better fuel economy

However, for most of the fleets planning to buy in the survey, those equipment purchase plans for Q2 do not include many units for ‘straight-up’ capacity additions – that is, adding equipment to their population of vehicles. That doesn’t take into account how many fleets are using newer, more productive equipment to add hauling capacity.

Fleets had, up to a point, been adding trailers to increase their capacity (more drop and hook, etc.), CKCVR notes, but “based on what our fleets are reporting – now the majority of fleets are designating most, if not all, of their equipment purchases to replacement.”

That's because there aren't enough drivers to put behind the wheel. Fleets in the survey continue to say they would add more capacity if they had more drivers; there’s plenty of freight to haul. The percentage of fleets in the survey who indicate they have a driver shortage has now gone over 70% for the first time. In addition, the fleets that say they have a driver shortage – almost 75% – now need them to fill current seats. Three quarters also indicate they can’t grow because drivers are not available.

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