The production of Class 8 trucks is showing some signs of improvement, but freight truck production won’t truly rebound until well into 2023, most experts are saying. COVID 19 has caused an assortment of issues in the OEM markets, and these issues have been further compounded as new variants have cropped up all over the world, leading to further shutdowns and labor shortages. The demand for Class 8 trucks and freight trailers has not gone down; quite the contrary, it has grown significantly. However, the industry has never fully recovered from the original COVID 19 lockdowns, and new lockdowns and infection rates of the Delta and Omicron variants have continued to put the OEMs further and further behind.
Labor and Parts Shortages
Despite the demand, many OEMs have had to place significant caps on the orders, as the fulfillment of orders has been difficult for the previous years. Many companies had to resort to laying off and furloughing employees at the start of the pandemic, and many of those employees have not returned. Don Ake, FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles, stated that “suppliers need workers desperately.” While there are shortages in truck components, specifically semiconductors, improving the supply of parts will not necessarily lead to drastically improved production. Ake continues by stating, “even if the semiconductor issue was solved on the Class 8 side, you still wouldn’t be able to get up to maximum production.” Labor shortages are affecting many industries across the globe, and freight truck production is no less a victim of this than any other industry.
The lack of parts, specifically semiconductors, is still a major issue, though. Countries like Malaysia and Japan, major producers of the vital component, have experienced new lockdown protocols and have been ravaged by intense infection rates of the newer COVID variants. Further compounding the issue is the fact that semiconductor production focused more so on household goods as trucks were taken off the road with new national and state limitations on travel. With both production of the necessary components down, and with the reallocating of where the parts go, this has led OEMs to begin making ‘red tag units’, trucks and trailers made without certain components. However, even with some of these corners being cut, the production of trucks is still running at a deficit of over ten thousand, with trailers only doing slightly better.
Optimism for 2023
There is some reason for optimism on the horizon, though. FTR projects that nearly two hundred and seventy-five thousand Class 8 trucks will hit the market this year, possibly rising to three hundred and thirty-five thousand. 2023 should see the largest increase in production, with estimates of Class 8 trucks breaking three hundred and fifty thousand and higher. Again, Ake speculates that “this is going to keep the OEM build rates elevated into 2023 and maybe into 2024.” He clarifies, though, that, “we’re in catch-up mode and we’re going to be in catch-up mode for a while.”
Despite the labor shortages and the bottle-necking of production caused by a lack of components, there is reason to be hopeful for the future of freight production. After all, the decrease in production that the industry has seen over the last couple of years is not from lack of demand, but rather from lack of production ability. As the component industries start producing at their usual rates, and as workers begin to return to the industry, the demand to get Class 8 trucks and trailers on the roads will be staggering. Most industry experts are pointing to some time into 2023 as the point where these shortages will be fixed.
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