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No surprises as heavy-duty truck market begins to normalize

The fact that November heavy-duty truck sales fell by 9 percent, the first time in more than a year that monthly sales have fallen, should not come as a surprise for the industry that has been in a “fast forward” mode since September 2016.

In absolute terms, the more than 83,000 units still represent a relatively high level even though it’s down from the more than 100,000 units that were sold in a record September. December sales will likely be at the same level of about 80,000 units, again down from the previous December, but total annual sales for 2017 will be at least 100,000 units more than the record of more than 1.01 million units sold in 2010, a record that was already broken with January-November sales of more than 1.04 million units.

It’s pretty much a consensus that the normalization of the sector will continue into 2018 as the effects of policy and regulation push and pre-buy effect from the emissions standards change wane, and there is no doubt that the heavy-duty truck market will experience a decline for 2018, but not at deep levels like in the years past.

That’s according to Mercedes-Benz Trucks, which finally brought its latest generation Actros and Arocs into the Chinese market on November 23, after nearly a six-year wait. I had an opportunity to talk to senior executives in charge of the brand’s global sales as well as operations in China and their view was that there will still be strong demand increase from both construction and logistics industries, even though the round of upgrading and switching trucks pushed by regulations will be completed. Mercedes-Benz Trucks, which operates in the high-end imported European brand sub-segment within the heavy-duty truck industry, has been growing at double digit rates in volumes just like its competitors and continues to have confidence that customers in China becoming more professional and innovative will continue to drive the growth of the Chinese trucking industry and thereby benefiting players like itself.

It’s almost mid-December and that means the leading Chinese domestic heavy-duty truck makers will be holding their annual business conferences. We will soon find out about their predictions of the heavy-duty truck market prospects in 2018 and beyond.

One interesting question to ask is, the market will be down in 2018, but will it fall below 1 million units or could we see a second straight year of sales topping the million-unit mark?

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