ATD Truck Beat offers analysis for truck sales in year ahead

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Updated Oct 13, 2021
ATD Truck Beat December 2020

Commercial truck sales closed out 2020 with total sales just shy of 410,000 units, NADA Chief Economist Patrick Manzi wrote in the most recent American Truck Dealers (ATD) Truck Beat report.

Manzi said last year’s total was a decline of 22.3 percent from 2019 but did improve as the year progressed, hitting a high point in December. In the heavy-duty market, Class 8 sales in 2020 totaled nearly 192,000 units, a slip of 30.6 percent from 2019, which had been the second best year on record.

The medium-duty story was similar, Manzi wrote, picking up in the fourth quarter but still closing the year just short of 218,000 units. He says that’s a decline of 13.2 percent compared to 2019.

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“Following the strong performance in 2019, commercial truck sales had been expected to decline throughout 2020, but the pandemic exacerbated the decline, with sales bottoming out in May at their lowest level since 2011,” Manzi said.

Yet ATD, like other organizations, believe the truck market enters 2021 in better shape.

According to ACT Research, orders for Class 8 trucks in December 2020 reached their fourth-highest level ever and marked the second straight month with orders greater than 50,000 units. Full-year orders in 2020 also beat 2019, with orders reaching 278,400 for the year.

And orders for medium-duty trucks also ended the year at a strong pace. According to ACT Research, preliminary orders for Class 5-7 trucks hit 31,500, marking their second-highest monthly total on record and the highest since March 2006, when orders topped 41,000 units.

Said Manzi, “COVID-19 has shifted a significant portion of consumer spending from services to goods, which are increasingly purchased online for at-home delivery. This has been a positive for sales of both Class 8 trucks used in the long-haul phase of goods transportation and for the medium-duty vehicles used in the last-mile delivery of those goods. This tailwind should continue for at least as long as COVID-19 dominates the daily lives of American consumers.”

On the negative side, he added the pandemic has  exacerbated the driver shortage by causing some older and immunocompromised drivers to step away. But, that shortage should be reduced a bit in the near term by vaccine distribution and by freight companies increasing driver pay.

For the year ahead, Manzi wrote ATD expects Class 8 truck sales of approximately 240,000 units, with medium-duty sales slightly lower at 230,000 units.

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