Rusty Rush: Back to the basics in 2024

A man with a clenched fist holding a microphone in front of a banner.

Rusty Rush says 2023 surprised him. 

"I'm a little baffled by what happened this past year, [in truck sales]," said Rush, president, chairman and CEO of Rush Enterprises at the 2023 Rush Tech Skills Rodeo in San Antonio. He and Rush Enterprises' Chief of Operations Michael J. McRoberts talked about the year that was and one that will be. 

[RELATED: Class 8 truck orders see large jump in November 2023]

The pair said there should've been a recession, but there wasn't. They don't expect that to be the case in 2024. 

Rush says he predicts a 20% pullback in 2024 as smaller carriers leave the market and bigger fleets clear out order backlogs. Which means it's going to be more competitive than dealers have been used to the last couple of years, when buyers flush with pandemic cash were lined up at the door. 

Nowadays buyers are more leveraged and interest rates are higher. Spot rates, too, are "bouncing along the bottom," Rush says. 

"I worry we've forgotten how to go to market myself," Rush says. "You going to have to make sure your sales force is tuned up." 

The good news is that supply chain issues have eased, with McRoberts calling any lingering supply chain pain points as minor compared to COVID problems

Rush says 2024 will be a soft year for parts, anyway, with most suppliers expecting a flat year. 

"If we see single-digit growth, we'll be happy," Rush says. 

Instead, Rush's dealer network will focus on a holistic sales and service environment with a focus on on-time performance for delivery and an increase in parts fill rate. 

Rush says the 2024 downturn may see a wave of mergers and acquisitions, especially as older dealership owners turn their thoughts to retirement. Rush itself is starting to feel the pinch of being so large in terms of distribution, but does still see some room for growth. The OEMs still want to consolidate, he says, preferring large, well-capitalized dealers over small, under-capitalized outlets. 

"It makes us better, too," Rush says. "A strong brand has strong dealer groups." 

Beyond the economy, Rush and McRoberts see telematics and prescriptive maintenance as the next way for Rush to capitalize in the near future. Alternative powertrains are still farther off. 

"We've got a grid to fix, folks," Rush says about electric trucks. "The dollars just don't play out right." 

Alternative fuels have their place, Rush stressed, but its still years from taking over the marketplace. Rush is putting its money behind natural gas still, Rush and McRoberts say, as well as pushing their predictive maintenance and telematics services. 

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