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Fleet equipment utilization rates hit 'record' highs

April 29, 2022
Truck dealers, heavy-duty independent parts distributors, and fleets experience rising prices amid ongoing parts shortages and high utilization rates.

Industry analysts seem optimistic for the heavy commercial truck and trailer markets for the remainder of this year and heading into 2023—particularly as fleet utilization rates are hitting record highs.

DataPulse, a quarterly fleet utilization survey from MacKay & Co., showed that in the first quarter of 2022, total power Classes 6-8 utilization was 86.2% compared to an initial fleet forecast of 82%, John Blodgett, VP of sales and marketing at MacKay & Co., said during an April 20 Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association Pulse webinar.

Indicative of strong freight movement, trailer utilization also hit new highs, with full-service lease and rental fleets nearing 97% utilization rates, and for-hire carriers up over 93%.

According to ACT Research data, March net U.S. trailer orders of 37,901 units increased more than 40% from the previous month and were nearly 28% higher compared to March 2021. Before accounting for cancellations, new orders of 38,400 grew about 37% versus February, but expanded only about 16% from the previous March, this month’s ACT Research’s State of the Industry: U.S. Trailer Report noted.

See also: Navigating equipment shortages: Fleet, dealer insights

“While total net orders jumped 40% month-over-month in March, the strength was dry van-centric,” Frank Maly, director of CV Transportation Analysis and Research at ACT Research, said in a statement. “A 71% sequential surge in dry van net orders accounted for 96% of the total industry month-over-month gain. On a year-over-year basis, net orders were up 28%, with a similar story to the monthly results. Dry vans, joined by reefers, provided more than the full market improvement, while the other eight trailer categories totaled 1,100 lower on a year-over-year basis.”

Alluding to the ongoing backlog-to-build ratio, Maly pointed out that trailer OEMs are rapidly filling available 2022 production slots.

“We expect orders and production to travel in lockstep until 2023 order boards officially open,” Maly said. “When that occurs, fleets likely will rush to formalize commitments that are already under discussion and negotiation.”

Heavy-duty parts, shop utilization

In addition to trucks and trailers, MacKay & Co.’s Blodgett indicated that truck dealer parts sales were up in February and have been trending positive over the last six months. Independent HD parts distributors also saw sales rise in February compared to January.

“Year-over-year, we ask both the truck dealers and the HD parts distributors where they stand on parts sales. Year to date, both are very positive and have had a good year—up about 10% for the first two months of 2022,” Blodgett said.

See also: Fleets move outside traditional channels to find parts

Dealer shop utilization, on the other hand, has seen a downward trend over the last few months. But Blodgett was quick to point out that over a 16-month timeframe, shop utilization remains above 80%.

“We have had some feedback from the dealers, and part of their issue with shop utilization is finding technicians to do the work, so that has an impact on their business,” Blodgett noted.

Since last June, dealers and distributors have been experiencing parts shortages at the 90%-plus level. That still hasn’t changed all that much.

“One thing that has changed is 42% of fleets are reporting shortages of particular components—that was 30% a year ago,” Blodgett explained. “So, it’s moving down the chain.”

The not-so-great news is that parts shortages coupled with high utilization rates means prices are on the rise all around. Blodgett pointed out that truck dealers, heavy-duty independent parts distributors, and fleets are experiencing average increases of about 9% to 10%. 

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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