Like an 18-wheeler chugging up a steep grade, the commercial vehicle industry is finally emerging from the doldrums. Manufacturers of heavy trucks got hit hard by the Great Recession. In 2009, for example, Paccar delivered just 61,000 new trucks—less than half what it delivered in 2008.
The industry is not entirely out of the woods, but business is certainly improving. From 2010 to 2012, unit sales at Volvo trucks are up 24 percent; Daimler trucks 30 percent; Navistar 64 percent; and Paccar a whopping 78 percent. Paccar subsidiary Peterbilt alone built more than 30,000 trucks in 2012—a record high.
The latest data indicate continued growth. New Class 8 truck orders in North America rose in April to 23,300 units, the highest tally in 15 months, according to ACT Research, leaving analysts to predict that manufacturers will ramp up production soon. The preliminary April total was 36 percent higher than the 17,105 net orders placed during the same month last year. It also was the seventh straight month that North American truck orders surpassed the 20,000 mark. Through the first four months of this year, OEMs have booked 90,646 net orders, up 7 percent from the same period last year.
Trailer orders are also up. Fleets ordered 21,769 trailers during April, the highest level so far in 2013 and 8 percent above year-ago levels, according to ACT Research. April’s tally was 29 percent higher than March’s total of 16,911 and broke a string of three year-over-year downturns.
Preparing for better days, OEMs are investing in their products, people and plants. From 2010 to 2012, R&D spending at Navistar and Paccar is up 16 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Daimler trucks has boosted its worldwide workforce by 12 percent. And Thomas Built buses recently installed a $2 million, 1,500-ton stamping press at its assembly plant in High Point, NC.
If you haven’t read senior editor Austin Weber’s profiles of the Kenworth assembly plants in Chillicothe, OH, and Renton, WA, check ’em out. The Paccar division is doing some amazing things on the assembly line.
For suppliers of riveters, welders, robots, power tools and other assembly technology, growth in the commercial vehicle industry should be icing on a the cake of a resurgent automotive industry. What do you think? Will the industry keep on truckin’?