November 4, 2016

Report: registrations of large commercial vehicles show 4.2-percent drop

Trend reflects decline in new tractor-trailers and industrial trucks, as owners keep older trucks on the road.

By DC Velocity Staff

New registrations of commercial vehicles in gross vehicle weight (GVW) classes 4 to 8 are down 4.2 percent through August of this year, according to the Englewood, Colo., consulting firm IHS Markit.

The statistics could foreshadow rough results for corporate earnings, since large trucks are almost exclusively used for business purposes. Nearly 96 percent of class 7 and 8 commercial vehicles (such as garbage trucks, furniture haulers, city buses, and 18-wheelers) are registered to a business, compared to just 24 percent in the GVW 1 class (including minivans, cargo vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks).

The largest drops were seen in the biggest vehicles, with registrations of new GVW class 8 commercial vehicles down 17.1 percent and GVW class 7 vehicles down 0.6 percent, while all other weight classes posted gains over the same timeframe last year, IHS Markit said at the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX).

"Traditionally, the larger trucks have a single purpose—for work applications—versus the smaller trucks, which are used for both personal and business needs," Gary Meteer, the director of commercial vehicle solutions at IHS Markit, said in a release. "As we work our way up the weight (GVW) scale, the business use gets larger."

New vehicle registrations by fleets operating more than 500 vehicles also showed a decline, resulting in the reduction of tractor trucks versus the same period in 2015. "These large fleets have been in a replacement cycle for the past five years, and large fleets have accounted for more than 50 percent of GVW 8 new registrations during this period," Meteer said. "Some of this year's slowing may be the result of uncertainty in the demand for goods, with the general slowing of the economic growth in the most recent quarters."

The news was better north of the border, however. In Canada, new commercial vehicle registrations for GVW classes 4 to 8 were likewise down 8.2 percent from the same timeframe last year, with the largest declines in GVW 8 trucks (down more than 21 percent), IHS Markit said. Despite that large drop, Canadian commercial vehicles showed growth for the first eight months of 2016 in the smaller classes. Growth segments in Canada include GVW 3 at 1.7 percent growth, GVW 4 at 12.5 percent growth, and GVW 7 with nearly 6 percent growth through August.

"The overall success of the Canadian commercial vehicle market is tied directly to the demand for GVW 3 and GVW 8 vehicles," Meteer said. "Typically, new registrations of GVW 3 and GVW 8 vehicles account for approximately 75 to 78 percent of new commercial vehicle registrations in Canada, and the two GVWs are about equal in share."

Taking a broader look at trends, the report showed that there are 9.4 million commercial vehicles (GVW classes 4 to 8) in operation on U.S. roads, based on a snapshot taken in June of this year. One of the most important statistics about vehicles in operation is that only 22 percent of vehicles on the road are operated by fleet managers with more than 500 vehicles, as compared to 43 percent for new registrations. Once a vehicle goes through its initial purchase cycle, it moves from these large fleets to small and mid-size fleets.

Part of the explanation for these statistics may be that owners are holding on to their vehicles longer.

Nationally, the average age of commercial vehicles (GVW class 4 to 8) on the road is 14 years, which is the highest it has been since IHS Markit began tracking this metric. Some of the oldest vehicles on the road are GVW 6 straight trucks and all buses. Based on these factors, IHS Markit analysts expect to see continued high demand for used commercial vehicles, and there will continue to be strong demand for replacement parts and service. However, since vehicle populations are small, the small to mid-size fleets must be identified for their business opportunity to be realized; and there may also be good market opportunity to trade older vehicles out and replace them with new equipment.

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