Heavy-duty truck sales soared to a record 262,415 during 1999, blowing by the previous U.S. record set the year before.
Class 8 truck sales rose 25.3 percent, while medium-duty truck sales (Class 4-7) climbed 18.5 percent to a record of their own: 258,894.
But after two record-setting years, manufacturers and analysts are forecasting a slowdown in Class 8 sales. Call it a chance for manufacturers to catch their breath after two years of running flat out.
'You had an exceptional year in 1998 and an unbelievable year in 1999,' said Ken Kremar, director of capital goods and freight transportation for WEFA Inc., a consulting firm in New York. 'It's been gangbusters for the entire commercial truck market.'
But the industry cannot sustain this level of sales during 2000, and some manufacturers plan to scale back production this year, he said.
WEFA forecasts another good year for the U.S. economy with growth of about 3 percent, down from 4 percent during 1999.
'But what you've already started to see is a pullback in investment for new equipment,' Kremar said. A pent-up demand for medium- and heavy-duty trucks has been satisfied by the tremendous influx of new equipment during the past two years, he said.
New orders for heavy-duty trucks have declined sharply, and companies are canceling a significant number of orders.
'You will see less pressure to expand fleets,' Kremar said. 'Growth in the economy will slow, so the need to expand fleets slows.'
There will be a fall from record levels, probably about 10 percent to 15 percent this year, Kremar said.
'Maybe Class 8 trucks will fall a little bit more,' he said. But even a 20 percent drop from 1999's record level is still a good level of business, he said.
Freightliner Corp., DaimlerChrysler's medium- and heavy-duty truck maker in the United States, had Class 8 sales of 83,791 during 1999, a 30.3 percent increase from its 1998 total.
Freightliner, the U.S. Class 8 market leader, increased its Class 8 share to 31.9 percent in 1999, up from 30.7 percent in 1998. Freightliner's Sterling division sold 14,090 Class 8 trucks in its first full year of operation, up from 5,055 in 1998.
STRONGER CLASS 8 SALES
All eight heavy-duty truck brands enjoyed sales gains during 1999, but the International brand saw its share of the Class 8 market drop to 15.9 percent in 1999, from 18.4 percent in 1998. Volvo also lost Class 8 market share, dipping to 10.7 percent from 11.5 percent.
Navistar International Corp. is forecasting demand for medium- and heavy-duty trucks of 405,000 units in the United States and Canada during fiscal year 2000, down from 465,500 units in fiscal 1999, ended Oct. 31.
Said John Horne, Navistar's chairman: 'It is important to note that there has been a sea change in the truck industry, and even at the forecasted level for 2000, demand will remain above the traditional levels of only a few years ago.'