Truck sales get the green light!

Truck sales get the green light!

Finally! Truck sales in South Africa are getting the green light! In March 2021, light commercial vehicle (LCV) sales improved by a substantial 52,4%, medium truck sales by 11,6% and heavy truck and bus sales by 35,2% compared to the corresponding month last year. As at the end of April, LCV sales were up 46,9% compared to year-to-date April 2020, medium truck sales were up 19,1% and heavy truck and bus sales were up 51%. But what has been happening in the rest of the world?

In Europe, sales are looking very good indeed. In March 2021, new commercial vehicle registrations in the European Union (EU) jumped by 95,3% to reach 204 046 units. Nearly all EU countries posted double- or triple-digit percentage gains, including the four major markets.

Italy, among the first to impose restrictions as the pandemic emerged in 2020, recorded the highest increase (+215,3%), followed by France (+166,7%), Spain (+151,7%) and Germany (+34,2%).

During the first quarter of 2021, the EU commercial vehicle market expanded by 21,6%, with 501 703 units registered in total. These results were boosted by the upturn in March. As a result, all key markets improved their cumulative performances, with France (+32,6%), Spain (+11,1%) and Germany (+4,9%) moving back into positive territory and Italy further consolidating its positive result (+38%).

Van sales in EU more than double

March sales of new vans in the EU were more than double (+107,5%) the levels seen in 2020, totalling 172 288 units. March 2021’s results also outperformed March 2019 volumes, when 165 455 vans were sold. Three of the four largest markets in the region recorded triple-digit increases: Italy (+268,9%), France (+183,3%) and Spain (+168,7%), while Germany also posted solid growth (+36,4%).

From January to March, registrations of LCVs surged by 23,6% across the EU. The strong March results managed to offset the segment’s weak performance during the first two months of the year. Demand increased in each of the key markets during this three-month period: Italy (+41,9%), France (+35,4%), Spain (+11,6%) and Germany (+4,9%).

Strong new heavy commercial vehicles (HCV) sales in EU

In March, the number of HCVs registered across the EU rose by 56,8% to 24 695 units. Poland – now the third EU market in volume terms – posted an impressive performance with a 127,3% increase. A total of 6 750 HCVs were sold there during Q1 (a 66,4% increase). Roughly the same number of second-hand trucks were also imported during the first quarter.

The four big Western European markets also provided a strong boost to the region’s growth: Spain (+96%), Italy (+75,6%), France (+70,6%) and Germany (+30,2%).

Over the first three months of 2021, EU registrations of HCVs increased by 18,1%, amounting to 63 390 units in total. The EU’s four major markets have recorded double-digit percentage gains so far this year: Italy (+27,6%), Spain (+21%), France (+11,1%) and Germany (+10,1%).

In March, 29 779 new HCVs were registered in the EU, a year-on-year increase of 51,8%. Three of the four largest EU markets posted gains of more than 70%: France (+73,1%), Italy (+71,3%) and Spain (+70,5%). With a 31,0% increase, Germany also made a sizeable contribution to the EU’s overall performance in March.

In the first quarter of the year, EU registrations of new trucks rose by 15,3% compared to the year before. Italy saw the biggest increase (+25,4%), followed by France (+13,8%), Spain (+13,7%) and Germany (+7,1%).

New medium and heavy buses and coaches (MHBC) over 3,5t

March 2021 registrations of new buses and coaches in the EU were 7,7% higher than in the same month last year. The four key EU markets posted mixed results in March 2021. Registrations increased in France (+58,8%) and Italy (+6,1%), but at the same time the German (-13%) and Spanish (-1%) markets contracted.

Three months into 2021, European demand for buses and coaches fell by 12,6%, with 6 560 new vehicles registered in total across the EU. Spain (-38,9%), Germany (-20,8%) and Italy (-13,8%) have posted significant losses so far in 2021, while France is the only major market that has been recording growth (+3,8%).

Positive growth in smaller EU markets

There was positive growth in some of the smaller markets too. For instance, in Romania 20% more heavy trucks were registered in Q1 of 2021 than in 2020. In Q1 of 2021, 1 461 new HCVs (over 16 t) were registered compared to 1 208 in Q1 in 2020. The semitrailers sales are even better – a 34% increase compared to Q1 2020 – with 924 units (up from 687 in 2020).

March 2021 was a very good month for vehicle sales in Belgium. When it comes to trucks below 16 tonne GVW, 135 units were sold vs 86 last year (+56,98%). Five tractor units were sold vs two last year (+150%). A total of 292 HCVs (from 16 tonnes up to 44 tonnes) were sold vs 244 in 2020 (+19,67%) and tractor unit sales rose to 377 vs 229 in 2020 (+64,63%). Semi-trailer sales rose to 716 (vs 477; +50,1%).

But Jan Voet, who represents the country on the International Truck of the Year (ITOY) jury and is also editor in chief of Transporama and Trans Aktueel, points out that this is not indicative of a healthy quarter. “If we look at the first quarter of this year, registrations have been falling back all through January and February. We only started seeing registrations picking up in March. Hence, we only saw heavy truck sales growth of +3,9% in Q1. And, in the below 16-tonne segment, it was -2,6%. It might be some time before this segment picks up again,” he warns.

In the Netherlands

Registration figures are improving slightly in the Netherlands, says Arjan Velthoven, editor of and the Dutch ITOY jury member. “In March 2020, registrations were first hit by Covid-19. One year on, it is slightly better for HCVs, with 1 220 new trucks in 03/2020 and 1 257 in 03/2021, up 3%. LCVs are doing much better, with 7 818 new LCVs in 03/2021, up 25% from 03/2020 (6 234 units). When one looks at the cumulative figures for the first three months of 2021, LCVs are up 9% and HCVs are down 7%. It will be interesting to see whether the semiconductor shortage will have an impact on sales later this year,” he ponders.

Things are looking considerably better in Austria too. Nevertheless, says Florian Engel, editor in chief of 1TRUCK and the country’s ITOY jury member, the market isn’t without its challenges. “In the first quarter of 2021, bus sales increased by 19% to 267. This was largely on the back of a huge public transport replacement order. N1 sales (up to 3,5 tonnes) increased by 46% to 11 783. This was driven by a new eco-tax (NoVa) of up to 50% for LCVs, starting from July 1 this year. Let’s take a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter to give an example. The actual cost is €48 959. Add the tax of €19 563 and it comes to €68 522! I don‘t know how our small and medium family businesses will finance this in the near future,“ he cautions.

In the same country, N2 sales (3,5-12 tonne) rose 31,4% to 92 while N3 sales (12 tonnes and up) increased by 18,4% to 861 and tractor sales grew by 22,0% to 811 in the first three months of 2021.

LCV sales are also strong in Switzerland. In March, they rose 38,1% to 3 141. Looking at the entire first quarter, LCV sales have risen 11,9% to 7 772, truck sales heavier than 3,5 tonnes have declined 7,7% to 901, and sales of people movers have risen 14,5% to 190.

Portuguese market recovers

Portugal has been one of the hardest-hit automotive markets in Europe, according to Ricardo Carvalho, journalist at Revista Carros & Motores and the Portuguese ITOY jury member. “But the commercial vehicle market in Portugal has grown in the first quarter of 2021. LCV sales increased by 6,4% to 7 062 and HCV sales totalled 1 209, which corresponds to an increase of 18,2%,” he reports.

The sales trend in Bulgaria is “slightly positive”, reports Snejina Badjeva, publisher of Bulgarian Transport Press and the Bulgarian ITOY jury member. “We saw a 13% increase in new registration of heavy trucks (over 12 tonnes) during the first quarter of 2021. A total of 716 trucks within the heavy class N3 (over 12 tonnes) were registered in the first quarter – versus 624 in the first quarter of 2020. This increase in sales comes despite the third wave of coronavirus spread, which led to a new stagnation in European transport due to strict border controls and Covid tests. The data for 2017, 2018 and 2019 show similar volumes to those realised since the beginning of this year, which is a positive indication for market recovery,” she predicts.

The situation in Poland is far more positive, with sales setting new records. In March 2021, 3 213 new vehicles over 3,5 tonnes were registered, which translates into 146% growth. In the first quarter, 7 775 vehicles were registered (a 52% increase). HCV sales were also strong, as we have reported.

The Danish market for all trucks from 3,5 tonnes is bouncing back nicely. In March 2021, 524 sales were recorded (+45,6%). Looking at Q1 of 2021, total sales amounted to 1 226 (+9,4%).

Strong sales in Czech Republic

Things are looking pretty good in the Czech Republic too. In the period from January to March 2021, a total of 4 304 LCVs (+17,92%), 392 buses and 1 972 trucks (+8,77%) were registered in the Czech Republic. In the same period last year, 3 650 LCVs, 226 buses and 1 813 trucks were sold. March was especially good for truck sales, which increased by 45,47% in that month alone.

In Ireland, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry has released its figures. It points out that, to present a more accurate picture of new vehicle registrations, it is important to compare registration totals with the same period in 2019 (pre-Covid) when businesses were fully operational. During March, LCV sales were up 110,2% (3 008) compared to March last year (1 431) and down 1,1% (3 042) on the same month in 2019.

In Q1 2021, new LCVs were up 22,41% (11 346) on last year (9 269) and up just 2,63% (11 055) on 2019. HCV registrations were up 11,54% (319) in March 2021 versus March 2020 (286) and 19,03% up (268) on March 2019. In Q1 of 2021, HCV sales were down 2,9% (882) on 2020 (908) and down 0,23% on 2019 (884).

Massive LCV growth in the UK

Heavy truck sales statistics in the UK pertaining to 2021 were not available at the time of going to print. However, the LCV market recorded the highest number of April registrations in history. A total of 30 440 LCVs were registered last month (April), the highest-ever total for the month since records began. This reflected a staggering 798,7% year-on-year change.

Sales increase in China

In the first quarter of 2021, China’s market for new vehicles grew strongly. From January to March 2021, the production and sales of commercial vehicles amounted to 1,397 million and 1,408 million, a year-on-year increase of 76,9% and 77,4%. Whether this trend continues remains to be seen. The Chinese government required all China III and lower emission vehicles to be replaced with China V or VI vehicles by the end of last year – and this could slow sales going forward.

Russian market grows

The Russian truck market increased by 45,1% to 7 968 in March 2021 (versus the same month last year). In Q1 of 2021, 19 365 commercial vehicles were sold in the country – versus 17 351 in Q1 of 2020 (an increase of 11,6%).

Hope in South America

In South America, where Covid continues to take its toll, the market performed well in March. A total of 10 759 trucks were sold, an increase of 38,1% over the previous month and 67,1% over March 2020. “However, with the worsening of Covid cases in Brazil, all truck manufacturers stopped production for 15 days. There are still doubts regarding the supply of parts, mainly electronic components. However, with the increase in vaccination, there’s hope for a strong resumption of sales,” reveals Marcos Villela, editor of Transporte Mundial and the representative of Brazil on the ITOY jury.

Buoyant market in North America

Thanks to the growth of e-commerce, the continued need to deliver goods despite the pandemic and consistently high freight rates, the 2020 calendar year wasn’t as bad as initially expected in North America, with 283 000 Class 8 orders in the year. And things remain peachy in 2021. In March 2021, Class 8 truck orders were above 40 000 units for the sixth month in a row. In fact, according to ACT Research’s State of the Industry: NA Classes 5-8 Report, Class 8 orders booked in North America during the past six months were surpassed only by the six-month period ending October 2018.

Moderate growth in Japan

New vehicle registrations in Japan – including cars, minicars, trucks (HCVs) and buses – increased by 4,2% to 1 429 743 vehicles compared to 1 371 726 vehicles sold during the first three months of 2020. Truck sales rose by 5,1% to 230 268 units. Bus and coach sales remained sluggish thanks to reduced travel demand as a result of the pandemic. In fact, sales dropped by 35% to 2 652 units.

A troubling situation in India

According to Statista, at the end of the fiscal year 2021, 569 000 commercial vehicles were sold in India. (India’s financial year begins in April and ends in March. For example, FY 2016 started in April 2015 and ended in March 2016.) This was the lowest since the 2012 financial year.

Commercial Vehicle Magazine’s Bhushan Mhapralkar, who represents India on the ITOY jury, says the sales figures in his country are “nothing to write home about”. In March 2021, 67 372 commercial vehicles were registered, marking a 42,20% decline vs the registration of 116 559 commercial vehicles in March 2020. The source of these figures is the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA) in India.

Mhapralkar explains that a second set of figures is released in the country by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the original equipment manufacturers. According to these figures, in March 2021, 38 450 LCVs were registered, down 45,55% from 70 611 units in March 2020. In March 2021, 4 663 medium-duty commercial vehicles were registered, down 44,10% from the registration of 8 342 units in March 2020. In March 2021, 18 609 HCVs were registered, down 44,28%, compared to the registration of 33 397 units in March 2020. “These figures include vehicles invoiced to the dealers as sales – but, in reality, they may lie in the dealer’s yard. The FADA figures, therefore, are more realistic,” notes Mhapralkar.

And down under

In strong contrast to India, things couldn’t be better in Australia. In March, 3 558 new commercial vehicles were registered across all sectors over 3,5 tonnes (36,6% up on March 2020). Light duty sales were especially impressive, increasing by 51,8%. Medium sales rose by 5,6% while HCV sales rose by 21,5%.

An ideal situation in New Zealand

While many truck markets across the planet were decimated by the pandemic, for some countries it was a case of business as usual. In New Zealand, for instance, sales hardly came off the gas. Two brands, in particular, namely Isuzu and Scania, even enjoyed a record year despite the challenges of 2020. Isuzu achieved the title as the leading brand of new truck sold in New Zealand for the 21st consecutive year, while Scania achieved the number one position in market share for heavy trucks (more than 16 000 kg GVM), buses and engines in 2020.

Sales in New Zealand are divided into three categories: NB, NC and TD. A class NB vehicle is a goods vehicle that has a GVM exceeding 3,5 tonnes but not exceeding 12 tonnes. A total of 689 of these vehicles were sold in the first quarter of 2021 – vs 521 in the same period in 2020.

A class NC vehicle is a goods vehicle that has a GVM exceeding 12 tonnes and here 611 sales were recorded in the first quarter of 2021. In 2020, 657 NC sales took place.

A class TD is a trailer that has a GVM exceeding 10 tonnes and here there were 326 sales in the first quarter of 2021. This compares to 299 in Q1 of 2020. Hence, we can see that the total market did grow – from 1 477 sales in Q1 of 2020 to 1 626 sales in Q1 of 2021. “The issue here has been getting the trucks. Of course, our gross numbers are small in comparison with other countries. But, when one looks at our year-on-year statistics, we’ve never really come off the throttle,” explains Dave McCoid, editor of New Zealand Trucking and the jury member for that country on the ITOY jury.

Many other markets around the world could only dream of being able to say the same…

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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