Class 8 truck sales: Thumbnail sketch with fingers crossed

| 6/19/2002

In 1999, 262,415 Class 8 trucks were sold - setting an all-time high. However, that's also when truck sales began to slump, dropping 19 percent in 2000 and a steeper 34 percent in 2001, according to

Sales in the first four months of this year are 39,908 units, a 16 percent decline from the same period in 2001. Or to put it another way, sales now are half what they were in 1999.

At this moment the situation appears to be picking up.

But not so fast - that's related to the EPA's tougher engine emission regulations due to take effect Oct. 1 this year, says Forbes Analyst Jerry Flint. In other words, shipping companies are buying as many new rigs as possible before the new engines, which will cost more and reportedly have poorer fuel mileage, go on the market.

The main question is what happens after October? Sales will fall back, Flint says, but by how much? It's difficult to gauge because the effect of Caterpillar's new engines won't be known until they're available next January. And the American tradition of truck builders assembling parts made by suppliers is giving way to the European tradition of builders making their own engines. So the industry figures, "Why help the competition by using their engines?"

"It's hard to figure out whether the Class 8 group is bottoming out, turning around or just seeing a false dawn," Flint says.