ACT Research: Current Weak Freight Fundamentals and Declining Pent-Up Demand Warrant Caution Ahead
With the 2024 order season opening in September, the Class 8 backlog increased by 8,700 units from August to 161,300 units, and the backlog-to-build ratio increased to 5.5 months, as published in ACT Research’s latest State of the Industry: NA Classes 5–8 report.
According to Kenny Vieth, ACT’s President and Senior Analyst, “Order season for 2024 kicks off with mixed conditions across the various Classes 5–8 vehicle end-markets. Considerable pent-up demand remains in many vocational markets. Addressing that pent-up demand has become more challenging as the UAW strike impacts MD and HD vehicle production. But Class 8 tractor demand looks markedly softer, consistent with weak freight markets and rates.”
“Class 8 began the order season with net orders of 36,974 units in September (36.9k seasonally adjusted). While a strong start to ‘the season,’ orders were down 31% y/y. While September marked a good start in filling 2024 orderboards, the follow-through over the next few months will ultimately be more telling for 2024 demand levels. Current weak freight fundamentals and largely sated pent-up tractor market demand make the case for caution.”
Vieth concluded, “Along with better-than-expected economic conditions, expectations were for spot rates to rise toward the end of this year, which certainly hasn’t yet materialized. That is due, at least in part, to the quirk of private fleets continuing to add capacity even in the face of low rates, following significant service disruptions during the pandemic. In conjunction, ‘labor hoarding’ is occurring among larger fleets, and anecdotally, those fleets are being as creative as possible to maximize driver pay even as they drive less, contributing to the bounce along the bottom.”
ACT’s State of the Industry: NA Classes 5–8 report provides a monthly look at the current production, sales, and general state of the on-road heavy and medium duty commercial vehicle markets in North America. It differentiates market indicators by Class 5, Classes 6–7 chassis and Class 8 trucks and tractors, detailing measures such as backlog, build, inventory, new orders, cancellations, net orders, and retail sales. Additionally, Class 5 and Classes 6–7 are segmented by trucks, buses, RVs, and step van configurations, while Class 8 is segmented by trucks and tractors with and without sleeper cabs. This report includes a six-month industry build plan, backlog timing analysis, historical data from 1996 to the present in spreadsheet format, and a ready-to-use graph package. A first look at preliminary net orders is also published in conjunction with this report.
ACT Research is recognized as the leading publisher of commercial vehicle truck, trailer, and bus industry data, market analysis and forecasts for the North America and China markets. ACT’s analytical services are used by all major North American truck and trailer manufacturers and their suppliers, as well as banking and investment companies. ACT Research is a contributor to the Blue Chip Economic Indicators and a member of the Wall Street Journal Economic Forecast Panel. ACT Research executives have received peer recognition, including election to the Board of Directors of the National Association for Business Economics, appointment as Consulting Economist to the National Private Truck Council, and the Lawrence R. Klein Award for Blue Chip Economic Indicators’ Most Accurate Economic Forecast over a four-year period. ACT Research senior staff members have earned accolades including Chicago Federal Reserve Automotive Outlook Symposium Best Overall Forecast, Wall Street Journal Top Economic Outlook, and USA Today Top 10 Economic Forecasters. More information can be found at www.actresearch.net.