Class 8 truck orders plummeted in March to their lowest readings in a decade, at a level half of what it was a year ago, according to preliminary numbers from FTR and ACT.

Preliminary North American Class 8 truck orders plummeted in March to 7,400 units, the lowest order total since 2010, according to preliminary numbers release by transportation forecasting firm FTR. ACT Research published similar findings with Class 8 orders falling to 7,800 units, down 45% from February and 51% lower than last year.

The COVID-19 crisis has caused truck orders to plummet.  -  HDT graphic

The COVID-19 crisis has caused truck orders to plummet.

HDT graphic

FTR reported that March orders were down 48% from the previous month and down 52% from a year earlier. A significant number of fleets canceled orders previously placed due to the sharp and sudden downturn in economic conditions caused largely by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uncertainty over the duration of the COVID-19 crisis is limiting orders to short-term, definite needs. FTR expects orders to stay near the 10,000-truck mark for a few months until economic activity regenerates.

Class 8 orders have totaled 170,000 units over the past 12 months.

“The only good news here, is that the number was still positive despite the high number of expected cancellations,” said Don Ake, vice president commercial vehicles. “The gross order number is probably higher than 10,000 trucks, which means at least some fleets need more vehicles. A few carriers are doing well in the short-term, depending on the region and the type of freight being hauled.”

Ake said the firm expects that most fleets will pause their replacement cycles due to the crisis, while large fleets that have immediate needs and the financial resources will continue to place modest orders.

“Smaller fleets may tap into the used truck market for their short-term needs to reduce the financial risk,” he said.

The second quarter will be tough on the Class 8 market, and the third quarter is still highly uncertain, according to FTR.

“Supply-side restocking on goods from China and demand-side restocking to support the surge in consumer staples actually created a positive, if temporary, inflection in freight rates,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT’s President and Senior Analyst. “However, increasingly bad news on the COVID front through the month and manufacturing beginning to shutter at the end of March were a heavy weight on an already overcapacitized industry operating a very young fleet.”

Regarding medium-duty activity in March, he noted, “After a reasonably buoyant February, the medium duty market felt the impact of COVID-19, if with less severe symptoms than Class 8. It is important to remember that March marks the beginning of the peak order season for medium duty vehicles.”

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