When will the pre-buy start?

user-gravatar Headshot
Updated Jun 18, 2024

Spend five minutes talking to anyone in the heavy-duty trucking sector about truck orders and it comes up. Pre-buy: The intentional ordering of trucks and tractors in advance of a new round of federal (or state) emission regulations.

Pre-buy made its way into trucking’s vernacular for the first time in the late 2000s, ahead of EPA’s Phase 1 emission regulations going into effect in January 2010. That was when aftertreatment was first introduced into the industry.

Truck buyers, rightfully, feared the new technologies and their added costs, and in 2008 and 2009, raced to order the final trucks and tractors produced ahead of the mandate —without the complex emission systems.

[RELATED: Regulations making California ‘next to impossible’ for carriers]

The Great Recession undoubtedly pinched those buyers in the first months after they received their equipment, but carriers that withstood the long slowdown were rewarded for their foresight. Navistar’s EGR experiment was a disaster, and while SCR ultimately proved to be the right technology to meet EPA’s regulations, the first engines equipped with SCR systems experienced maintenance costs that far exceeded manufacturer projections.

Truck buyers haven’t forgotten that experience. Pre-buys have preceded every EPA-mandated engine and aftertreatment development since.

Another is coming.

EPA’s next round of heavy-duty greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards are scheduled for January 2027, and many in trucking believe the regulations will be the most transformative change the industry has seen since 2010. Similar to regulations enacted California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) earlier this year, EPA’s 2027 final rule is expected to add new componentry (and substantial costs) to equipment.

Carriers are going to want to avoid them.

As for the question posed at the top of this article? Sometime next year seems to be the consensus.

S&P Global Mobility’s Mark Hazel and Andrej Divis were on last week’s MEMA Pulse webinar and both indicated 2025 is likely to be the start of the pre-buy. With freight still mostly depressed, orders for the rest of the year are likely to be replacement demand. No substantial uptick from seasonal order totals is expected, and the duo says if one occurs it will likely be due to strong freight conditions rather than the pre-buy.

Carriers chasing business opportunities buy trucks when they need them; carriers trying to avoid new truck emission challenges will want to buy as close to January 2027 as possible.

I think the pre-buy starts in earnest about a year from now. Early second quarter of 2025.

Aggressive, forward-thinking carriers will start placing orders at that time for expected deliveries in advance of the 2025 holiday season. Those first buyers will be fleets who got some of the first trucks in 2022 after the pandemic production bottleneck, and they’ll be looking to offload those trucks before their fourth birthday.

[RELATED: Experts address weakness in 2024 market during webinar]

And I think that four-year threshold is important. The EPA’s Phase 3 regulations are less stringent than industry feared for model years 2027-2030, but become more stringent in 2031 and 2032.

I think a lot of carriers will attempt to stagger their next two large truck buys for model years 2026 and 2030. If we see a run on orders start next May, for example, and continue through the summer, expanding the backlog, carriers that intended to order later will likely attempt to push up their cycle. No one will want to miss getting build slots, or get their orders pushed into 2027 if they can avoid it.

Learn how to move your used trucks faster
With unsold used inventory depreciating at a rate of more than 2% monthly, efficient inventory turnover is a must for dealers. Download this eBook to access proven strategies for selling used trucks faster.
Used Truck Guide Cover