March 2023 saw the best sales of new Class 8 trucks of any March for the past 18 years, according to data received from Wards Intelligence. Manufacturers reported sales of 24,823 for the month, representing a 23.3% increase over February sales of 20,359. For the first quarter of 2023, a total of 64,891 Class 8 trucks were reported sold. That’s less than a percentage point below the record-setting first quarter of 2006.
Compared to March 2022, truck sales rose by 21.9%. A quarterly comparison shows an increase of 29.2% over first quarter 2022 sales numbers.
In North America, March Class 8 orders fell by 18% to 19,000 units, according to preliminary numbers from FTR Intel. Compared with March 2022, orders fell by 11%. However, it will take quite a while for these lower order numbers to impact actual sales. Buyers have ordered so many trucks that nearly all build slots are filled for the rest of 2023. If orders fell to zero tomorrow, manufacturers would be able to keep building into 2024.
“With build activity over the last several months hovering near 27,000 units, backlogs likely fell during the month,” said Eric Starks, chairman of the board for FTR, in a release announcing the preliminary results. “Given that backlogs are sitting at such high levels, however, it is difficult to ascertain if there is a fundamental weakening in the Class 8 equipment market given order activity levels.”
Despite predictions of a coming recession and higher interest rates caused by Federal Reserve efforts to curb inflation, buyers are still ordering new trucks and taking delivery of as many as they can get.
“Overall, the numbers were solid and will have little impact on production levels over the next two quarters,” Stark continued. “Given the uncertainty in the economy, this is a welcome sign that demand has not collapsed and that fleets still have access to capital.”
ACT Research reported 19,200 March orders on a preliminary basis.
“Given how robust Class 8 orders were into year-end and ensuing backlog support, coupled with increasingly cautious readings from the ACT Class 8 Dashboard (-6 on average year to date in 2023, vs. -3 on average from March-December 2022), we have expected SA orders in a range of 15-20k units per month into mid Q3’23,” said Eric Crawford, vice president and senior analyst for ACT.
Individual OEMs all reported sales gains over February — with the exception of Volvo. That company reported sales of 2,313 in March, down 2.2% from February’s 2,366. It should be noted, however, that February was an exceptionally strong month for Volvo. For the first quarter of 2023, Volvo sales of 6,084 are up 16.4% from sales in the same quarter of 2022.
Volvo-owned Mack Truck reported sales of 1,727 in March, up 28.5% from February’s 1,344 and up 38.6% from March 2022 sales of 1,246.
On a percentage basis, International saw the largest gains both month over month and year over year. The company reported sales of 4,154 in March, up 46.9% over February sales of 2,828 and up 77.7% over March 2022 numbers. International’s share of the U.S. Class 8 market in March was 16.7%, bringing the OEM’s year-to-date total market share to 14.5%
Last year at the same point (the end of the first quarter) the company’s market share was 11.6%. That’s a long way from 2009, when International held 28% of the U.S. market and the top spot among manufacturers, but things are headed in the right direction for the Traton Group-owned Navistar. Traton Group also owns MAN, Scania and Volkswagen Truck and Bus.
Kenworth sales of 3,359 were 18.1% ahead of February sales and 12.5% ahead of March 2022 sales. For the first quarter, the company has sold 20.4% more trucks than in the same period of 2022. Peterbilt fared a little better in March with sales of 3,432, up 20.7% from February but only 6% better than March 2020. With first-quarter sales of 8,734, Peterbilt is 21.5% ahead of the same three months in 2022. Both PACCAR companies have about a percentage point less in market share compared with the first quarter last year.
Freightliner continues to lead the pack with an even 40% of U.S. Class 8 sales in the first quarter, the same percentage they held for the first quarter of 2022. For the month of March, Freightliner reported 9,208 sold vs. 7,368 in February for an increase of 25.0%. Compared with March 2022 sales of 7,691, numbers were up 19.7%.
Western Star sold nearly 8,600 fewer trucks than sibling Freightliner in March, reporting 610 trucks moved. That number represents an increase of 14.2% from February but a decline of 7.3% compared to March 2022. For the first quarter, Western Star’s 1,711 trucks sold were just 1.8% ahead of the pace set in the same quarter of 2022.
Finally, Tesla reported sales of 20 Class 8 electric trucks in March, double what it sold in February. The first-quarter total of 60 can’t be compared with the same quarter 2022 because Tesla sales, if any, weren’t reported to Wards until January of this year. For perspective, Tesla sales represent .09% (less than a tenth of a percent) of the market. It’s hardly worth tracking now, but that percentage will undoubtedly be growing for Tesla and for other manufacturers of battery and fuel cell electric trucks.
Economists are still predicting a mild recession, but buyers of Class 8 trucks aren’t looking to downshift any time soon.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.