The lack of sufficient trucks to meet the growing demand for freight has caused shipping companies and road carriers to scramble to secure new vehicles.
Heavy truck sales jumped 31% to 29,300 units in August from the same month a year earlier, said Kristine Kubacki, industrial analyst at Mizuho Securities in Chicago.
The fleets also placed new orders for a record 53,100 heavy trucks last month, according to trucking research firms ACT Research and FTR Transportation Intelligence.
Manufacturers are running at full capacity to keep pace. Although they built a record 29,400 trucks in August, a 15% increase from last year, the backlog is growing. It climbed 193% from last year, reaching 281,000 trucks, Kubacki said.
Daimler Trucks North America told Trucks.com it was sold out for the rest of the year and the first half of 2019.
The vigorous activity means that the wait time for new trucks is now longer than ever.
The trailer market is also on fire. Orders for 38,200 trailers in August were up 104% from the same period last year, research companies reported. This level of activity is expected to last through 2019, said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR.
The main factors driving demand include strong economic growth over the past three to five years, levels of full employment and more freight than there are trucks to transport it, said Kenny Vieth, president of ‘ACT.
Plus, new, high-tech trucks that offer good fuel economy ratings are driving the replacement, Vieth said.
Shortages of trucks and trailers as well as diesel drivers and mechanics result in higher loading prices for shipping companies. Spot rates are up 30% from last August.
When trucking companies make a lot of money, they buy equipment to offset taxes, Vieth said.
Still, there could be some hurdles that would disrupt the robust truck market.
The long-term impact of tariffs on steel and aluminum from China is uncertain.
“Tariffs are the biggest risk to the US economy,” Vieth said. Consumers will have to cover the rising costs of goods associated with higher tariffs, which would affect discretionary spending.
The Trump administration prices placed earlier this month on an additional $ 200 billion in Chinese imports that will take effect this week and continue at 10% until the end of the year.
“The question is whether freight shipments are advanced to get ahead of tariffs, what happens to freight volumes after tariffs,” Vieth said.
For now, the outlook is positive. “The economy has the potential to remain strong until 2019,” he said.
Read more: Orders for new heavy trucks set record in August