To be sure, no one is expecting new trucks to roll into fleets over the next year like pancakes flying off the griddle at a 24-hour truckstop. Not with truck sales projected to remain seriously soft for the rest of this year and well into next — thanks to drop-offs in freight volumes of over 10% and the high purchase price of EPA 2010-compliant diesel engines. Last month, a new ACT Research Co. forecast predicted that 2009 Class 8 retail truck sales will run 43% below 2008 levels and only recover about half of that decline in 2010, and Class 5-7 retail sales will dip 26% for 2009 and grow only 11% next year.
By sheer necessity, trucking is in hunker-down mode. Truck makers have, of course, also been hard-hit by the same economic tsunami as fleets, but by and large — with two notable exceptions — they are all continuing to roll out new truck models and various other product developments, albeit not at the dizzying pace of the boom years before the bust.
Two marques are now absent from the ranks. General Motors, fighting for its very life, stated last month it had “decided to wind down its medium-duty truck operations. Production of the Chevy Kodiak and GMC TopKick medium-duty trucks will cease by July 31, 2009.” And back in October, Daimler AG announced the close of its Sterling Trucks operation, declaring that the medium/heavy truck OEM had “never met expectations.” Sterling was set up in 1998 out of the truck operations Daimler purchased the year before from Ford.