December wasn’t a great month for Class 8 truck orders but it did little to dampen what was a tremendous year for the heavy-duty truck market in 2018.
Preliminary order tracking from analysts at ACT Research and FTR show Class 8 truck orders in December hovering around 21,000 units for the month, the worst month since August 2017 by FTR’s numbers. The final numbers will be published later in the month. Orders were down compared to a weak November and were as much as 43% lower than December 2017, according to ACT Research.
The drop in orders was not unexpected, however, fleets had been placing Class 8 truck orders at record rates all year and even with a subdued final few months, 2018 orders are expected to total as much as 490,100 units.
“It is important to put slowing orders into context. With a 300,000-plus unit backlog and a solidly booked build schedule, the drop in orders is in-line with expectations,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT president and senior analyst.
With huge but falling backlogs, fleets have nearly tied up all build slots through the first two quarters of 2019 and orders are expected to remain low for the next few months, according to FTR.
“Order rates right now are not that relevant because of the record-breaking totals recorded in June and July last year,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “All the orders are in, the question now is how many of these orders will actually be built? We will have to watch the build rates and retail sales closely for clues about the future strength of the Class 8 market.”
Medium-duty Class 5-7 truck orders fell to a six-month low of 21,500 units, moderating a bit after solid November tally.
“A considerable drop from the 25,200 unit-per-month average the medium duty industry enjoyed throughout 2018,” said Vieth. “Seasonality is not a factor in December for medium duty vehicles, but the month’s orders had the ignominy of being the first negative year-over-year comparison in 15 months, falling 4.6% compared to December 2017.”