Class 8 truck orders finished 2021 with a backlog-to-build timing exceeding 12 months. But orders for electric trucks are being processed in a quarter of that time, according to manufacturers under pressure to meet state zero-emission mandates.
The number of electric orders is tiny — several dozen to a few hundred is a good estimate — compared with total Class 8 orders of 23,100 preliminary December orders projected by FTR Transportation Intelligence. FTR estimated 365,000 new trucks were booked in 2021.
ACT projected December orders at 22,800. But the backlog of unbuilt units stood at about 267,000 through November after peaking at 284,400 in October, according to ACT Research. That equates to a 13-month wait for most orders.
One exception is battery-powered electric trucks, which major manufacturers are beginning to ramp. Fleet customers with an opportunity to try the zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles are returning to order bigger numbers, according to OEMs who spoke with FreightWaves at the 2022 CES in Las Vegas.
3 months versus 13 months
Kenworth estimates that its T680E takes three months from order to delivery. But depending on state rules, purchasers are required to retire an older, more polluting truck, so the goal of increasing freight-hauling capacity is thwarted.
Navistar said interest in its new medium-duty MV Series soars after fleet trials. The International MV currently is built in Escobedo, Mexico. It will be the first truck off the production line when Navistar opens a new plant in San Antonio in March.
Meanwhile, manufacturers are repurposing microchips that remain in short supply with no sign of near-term significant improvement.
“There’s no indication that there’s a silver bullet that is going to solve this problem,” Kenny Vieth, ACT president and senior analyst, told FreightWaves. “It’s just going to be a slow grind. The semiconductor capacity isn’t going to all come on line in one day, so it’s going to be a slow climb out of the hole.”
Myriad shortages of other parts and components have worsened the supply chain disruption. That has led to record cancellations and retiming of orders.
Supply, not demand, dictates production
“It’s the year in which supply dictated production rather than demand, and that’s the first time in my 30-plus years doing this that has been the case,” Vieth said. “There’s always the supply chain constraints at the beginning of every cycle, but those usually get sorted pretty quickly.”
Not this time.
“The OEMs have a large number of fleet commitments for 2022,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “They are delaying entering these orders until they know how many they will be able to build each month.”
Demand overwhelmed supply throughout 2021. Fleets are holding on to trucks beyond their four-to-five-year trade-in cycle, which has elevated used truck prices, especially for low-mileage newer trucks, to astronomical levels.
“Fleets need a considerable number of new trucks right now. Industry capacity is extremely tight, resulting in elevated freight rates,” Ake said. “The carriers have freight to haul and funds available for new trucks, but OEMs can’t build enough.”