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July trailer sales up slightly, but below last year; used Class 8 sales fall again

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Both ACT Research and FTR reported trailer sales in July as being up slightly over June, but still far below the same month one year ago. (Courtesy: GREAT DANE)

The nation’s two organizations that track and analyze data about the commercial motor vehicle market both note that trailer orders were up in July as compared to June but were still far below when compared with the same month last year.

One of the two organizations reported used Class 8 sales fell for the fourth consecutive month.

ACT Research said preliminary estimate for July 2019 net trailer orders is 9,900 units. Final volume will be available later this month. This preliminary market estimate should be within +/- 3% of the final order tally.

FTR reported preliminary trailer orders for July at 9,000 units, up 61% from dismal June numbers but 68% below July 2018. FTR said trailer orders continue to show weakness during the summer months after experiencing a record run in the second half of last year, noting that van fleets already have their orders in for 2019 and have not started ordering yet for 2020. Although currently, production remains robust at near-record levels, some easing of build rates is expected as backlogs fall significantly to where they were at the start of 2018, FTR said. Trailer orders for the past 12 months now total 324,000 units.

“While net trailer order volume improved significantly from June’s dramatically disappointing results, the industry’s year-over-year performance continued to be extremely weak. While net orders jumped 65% versus an amazingly weak June, they were 66%  below this point last year, a tough comparison to the first month of the record-setting order run-up of last summer and fall,” said Frank Maly, ACT’s director of CV transportation analysis and research. “While some fleets made investment commitments in response to the opening of some 2020 order boards, their overall response was lackluster. A few months ago, there was strong interest to push commitments into next year, but uncertainty over the economy, freight volumes, and capacity has now caused many fleets to move to the sidelines as they re-assess their true needs for either replacement of older equipment or additions to fleet capacity next year.”

On a positive note, Maly said the cancellation pressures of recent months appeared to ease a bit in July. However, any cancels are likely impacting fourth quarter production slots, so there is still some churn in order board occurring before year-end.

“That results in a fairly soft foundation for early next year. Also worth noting is that production continued at a solid pace in July, although OEMs definitely slid back from June’s frantic pace,” he said.

Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles, said trailer orders should stay subdued in August but start to revive in September, as fleets determine their needs for next year. The environment remains uncertain, with freight growth slowing and the tariff situation in flux.

“The July order volumes continue to demonstrate a possible return to normalcy in the equipment markets. The low total is representative of a typical slow summer order month, and is very close to the July 2016 number,” he said.

As for the used truck market, Steve Tam, ACT’s vice president of research, said preliminary used truck sales fell 2% month-over-month, the fourth consecutive sequential drop.

Other data released in ACT’s preliminary report included sequential comparisons for July 2019, which showed that average prices fell 4%, while average miles climbed 2%, and average age was up 4%.

“Used truck prices are the hottest topic in the industry right now,” Tam said. “Many dealers are experiencing significant softening in prices, but the erosion is not uniform. Depending on a host of factors, experiences vary and a few factors that impact prices include customer, equipment specifications, location, and vehicle condition.”

ACT’s Classes 3-8 Used Truck Report provides data on the average selling price, miles, and age based on a sample of industry data. In addition, the report provides the average selling price for top-selling Class 8 models for each of the major truck OEMs – Freightliner (Daimler); Kenworth and Peterbilt (Paccar); International (Navistar); and Volvo and Mack (Volvo).

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ATA truck tonnage index rose 0.1% in January, 0.8% higher than January 2019

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Ata truck tonnage index rose 0.1% in january, 0.8% higher than january 2019
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 71.4% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. (iStock photo)

ARLINGTON, Va. – American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 0.1% in January after rising 0.5% in December. In January the index equaled 117.4 (2015=100), compared with 117.3 in December.

ATA recently revised the seasonally adjusted index back five years as part of its annual revision.

“Over the last two months the tonnage index has increased 0.6%, which is obviously good news,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.

“However, after our annual revision, it is clear that tonnage peaked in July 2019 and, even with the recent gains, is down 1.8% since then,” he continued. “Softness in manufacturing and elevated inventories continue to weigh in on the truck-freight tonnage.”

Compared with January 2019, the SA index rose 0.8%, which was preceded by a 3.1% year-over-year gain in December. In 2019 the index was 3.3% above 2018.

The not-seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 114.6 in January, 1.1% above the December level (113.3). In calculating the index, 100 represents 2015. (Note: ATA’s tonnage data is dominated by contract freight.)

Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, representing 71.4% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods. Trucks hauled 11.49 billion tons of freight in 2018. Motor carriers collected $796.7 billion, or 80.3%, of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership, and has been doing so since the 1970s. This is a preliminary figure and is subject to change in the final report issued around the fifth day of each month. The report includes month-to-month and year-over-year results, relevant economic comparisons and key financial indicators.

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The Trucker Newspaper – February 15, 2020 – Digital Edition

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Fleet Focus: ELDs push drivers to find ways to remain ‘productive’

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Prior to ELDs, two hours stuck in traffic went down as a half-hour driving and an hour-and-a-half break at the truck stop, or the start time was simply adjusted to show beginning the trip much later. (The Trucker File Photo)

The crescendo has passed, but the symphony of protest against electronic logging devices (ELDs) is far from over. Despite the objections and barring a legislative turnaround of epic proportions, ELDs are here to stay.

Whether the claims of enhanced safety provided by ELDs prove true, and so far they have not, carriers have a vital interest in protection against the “nuclear” verdicts being handed down in courtrooms. With paper logs, they had less control over the driver’s actions. Hours of Service infractions and falsifications that could potentially seal a verdict against the carrier might not be discovered until weeks afterward, when the logs were sent in. And, if the driver was good enough at “creative” logging, those infractions might not be discovered at all.

Full disclosure: during a driving career, the writer may or may not be responsible for years of near-perfect duty status records that may or may not have been routinely (and beautifully) falsified.

For most drivers, and especially owner-operators, it was important to “preserve” as many driving hours as possible in order to be productive (and profitable). So, two hours stuck in traffic went down as a half-hour driving and an hour-and-a-half break at the truck stop, or, the start time was simply adjusted to show beginning the trip much later. Recorded driving hours were calculated by dividing miles traveled by a reasonable “average” speed, usually five or so miles below the posted speed limit — but only when the result was fewer hours than actually spent driving that distance. Daily hours didn’t start until the truck was nearly loaded, foregoing the short drive from the truck stop and hours of waiting.

ELDs have greatly reduced infractions and falsifications, and made it easier for
carriers to identify those that still occur much sooner. Some will say that ELDs can still be falsified, but it’s also easier for both carriers and law enforcement to monitor.

What has happened is that ELDs have brought to the surface something that drivers have known for decades — industry abuse of the driver’s working time has been rampant and mostly ignored. It’s amazing how many carriers suddenly became concerned about driver “productivity” when ELDs made it more difficult for drivers to “hide” non-productive hours. Dispatchers are no longer able to give wink-and-nod direction to “just do the best you can,” trusting
the driver to make the paper logs look right.

With ELDs in place, drivers and owner-operators need to find other ways to remain productive. That action might include becoming much more assertive when it comes to control of those available hours.

Refusing dispatch, for example, is a legal descriptor of being an independent owner or contractor. Drivers should consider more than just miles and compensation rates when a load is offered. For example, loads traveling shorter distances are often less productive, especially when there’s a pickup and a delivery on the same day. The rate per mile offered should be greater than for longer loads.

Potential traffic should be considered, too. A pickup scheduled for 8 a.m. in the center of a large metropolitan area virtually guarantees waiting in traffic congestion, whereas a pickup in a suburb, or in a smaller city, might get the driver in and out much faster.

Customers who routinely take excessive amounts of time to load or unload can and should be avoided. Even if the customer or carrier pays for detention time, the amount is often far less than the driver earns during hours spent driving down the highway.

In a world where compensation is usually calculated by the mile, drivers are often unaware of how their settlements equate to hourly pay. They shouldn’t be. Owners should keep a record of the total time spent on a load as well as compensation received. A load with 10 hours of driving that is loaded in an hour and unloaded in an hour means 12 hours invested. Make it four hours to load and four more to unload, and the time investment becomes 20 hours. Divide the revenue received by the time spent (12 hours or 20) and the resulting earnings per hour may differ greatly. The answer may be good to know the next time that load is offered.

Managing a trucking business, even a one-truck outfit, is often a series of trade-offs. Owners must sometimes accept a not-so-good load to get in position for a better one or to get to needed maintenance (or a visit home). Even so, every load offered should be examined for its productivity potential.

The impact of ELDs on productivity is real. Owners of small trucking businesses can minimize that impact by considering potential productivity on every load offered and by exercising the power of NO when necessary.

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