Orders for heavy-duty trucks recovered in December after a long string of weakness in 2015 that culminated in November with the slowest month for orders in three years. That's according to data published late Tuesday and yesterday by two leading research firms in the segment.
FTR yesterday reported preliminary data showing that December heavy-duty truck "net" orders, which are new orders minus cancellations, hit 27,800 units, a 70-percent sequential improvement that the consultancy said was "considerably above expectations" for the month.
FTR's data came after ACT Research Co. posted preliminary numbers Tuesday night showing that net orders for heavy-duty trucks came in at 28,100 units, the strongest month of the year after February, when 50,900 orders were booked. For December, combined net orders for medium- and heavy-duty trucks came in at 49,700 units, up 40 percent from November's numbers, ACT said.
If accurate, the December data is a welcome rebound from terrible numbers posted in November. Net orders in November totaled between 16,400 and 16,800 units, more than a 50-percent decline from November 2014, the worst monthly number since 2012, and the worst November results since recession-wracked 2009. November and December are historically strong months, as truck buyers look to position themselves before the turn of the year.
The strong December results could not mask what was a difficult year for truck orders. According to ACT, heavy- and medium-duty orders last month were off 26 percent from December 2014 levels, marking the ninth consecutive month that orders fell below year-ago levels. FTR said that heavy-duty truck orders in December were off 36 percent year-over-year. When combining November and December results, heavy-duty truck orders were close to the average for the past 10 months and totaled 284,000 units for all of 2015, FTR said.
Don Ake, FTR's vice president of commercial vehicles, said the December data indicates that there is "still solid demand" for big rigs heading into 2016. Ake forecast that the final December data will show that order backlogs increased for the first time since the February 2015 peak. He added that order activity should pull back in February, leaving truck manufacturing in a more balanced state as the industry completes planned production cuts to better align with current demand trends.
Order activity in general is relatively weak this month and next, though heavy-duty activity is reasonably good because big fleets are still buying during the quarter, according to Kenny Vieth, ACT's president.
Vieth predicted in an e-mail that first-quarter net orders for heavy-duty trucks should drop back to the low 20,000-unit range during each month.