U.S. Class 8 Truck Sales fall to recessionary levels in May

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Individual OEMs showed mixed results, with Volvo being the only line to do better in May than in April.

As expected, U.S. sales of Class 8 trucks declined sharply in May, according to data received today (June 10) from Wards Intelligence.

According to Wards, manufacturers reported that 9,165 Class 8 trucks were sold on the U.S. market in May. 3,472 fewer than an already down April for a decline of 27.5%. It was the first sub-10,000 sales month for the industry since February 2011.

Compared to May 2019, sales plummeted from 24,424 in that month, dropping a whopping 62.5%. For the year-to-date, sales of 69,384 Class 8 trucks are 37.7% behind last year’s pace, when 111,332 trucks were sold in the first five months of the year.

As the U.S. economy began to open in the month of May, it’s possible that June truck sales will begin to rise, but still aren’t expected to reach 2019 levels until the later months of the year, if at all.

Individual OEMs showed mixed results, with Volvo being the only line to do better in May than in April. Volvo reported 1,084 trucks sold in May, a 14.0% improvement over April sales of 951 units. For the year thus far, Volvo sales lag 38.6% behind last year’s pace, close to the industry average.

Kenworth saw a sales drop of 44.2% over April results with May sales of 1,277 trucks compared to 2,290 in the prior month. It was the worst month-over-month loss of the OEMs.

Peterbilt was closer to the industry average at a 27.9% decline, 1,119 sold in May compared to 1,553 in April. The company leads the way, however, when compared with May 2019, when 3,855 trucks were sold. The 71.0% decline tops the OEM list for May.

On a year-to-date basis, International is the biggest loser. Sales of 8,695 trucks are down 45.9% from 16,070 sold January through May last year.

With the largest share of the new Class 8 truck market, Freightliner takes the biggest hit when it comes to sheer numbers. Sales this year are 17,006 behind the 2019 pace, a decline of 40.2%. In May, the company sold 3,104 trucks, a decline of 28.1% from April. Compared with May 2019, sales declined by 5,314 units, dropping 63.6%.

Mack Truck has shown the greatest resilience to the sales drop with a decline of 25.7%, best among the OEMs with the exception of Western Star, whose sales declined 4.2%. Both produce a large number of vocational trucks, possibly making the difference in sales.

Currently, Freightliner holds 36.5% of all 2020 U.S. Class 8 sales, down 1.5% from last year’s mark. At 8.1% of the market, Mack has climbed from last year’s 6.8%. Tiny-but-mighty Western Star, who achieved a 2.3% market share last year, has climbed to 3.5% this year and 5.5% in May.

The good news that the economy has begun to reopen may be offset by the announcement that it is now officially in recession. Those two factors will undoubtedly impact new truck sales in the coming months. The reopening may have started a little late to rescue June sales, and some buyers may wait to determine if the recession will be a short one, as expected, or will last.

Whether May turns out to be the worst month of the year, or sales sink even lower in June, it is apparent that full year 2020 sales will not be as robust as they have been in the last few years. It’s unlikely that sales will fall beneath the 94,978 of recession-year 2009, but there’s no doubt that manufacturers and dealers would like to see an increase from current levels.

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