If winners are grinners, then the smiles on the dials of Volvo principals must be bigger than ever before as the Swedish powerhouse kicks ahead of arch rival Kenworth and forges to heavy-duty domination in the first half of a barnstorming 2023 truck market. But as this special report reveals, the greatest achievement is in record performances by the corporate threesome – Volvo, Mack and UD.
Head-to-head it’s a close contest, very close, but Volvo has continued its recent momentum to beat Kenworth to top spot in the first half of a phenomenally strong 2023 heavy-duty truck market.
Indeed, the strength of the heavy-duty sector so far this year – as well as light and medium-duty markets – almost guarantees that all previous sales records will be smashed into mediocrity by year’s end. Put simply, with 8732 units delivered to the end of June, it’s entirely possible that considerably more than 17,000 heavy-duty trucks will have been delivered by the end of the year and that, folks, is a figure that not so long ago lived only in fairyland.
Make no mistake, these are boom times like never before.
As usual though, some brands are enjoying the bounty more than others and right now, none are having bigger bites of the commercial cherry than Volvo Group Australia (VGA) and Kenworth parent, Paccar Australia.
In the one-on-one contest between the two market heavyweights, Volvo delivered 1798 trucks for the year to the end of June to take 20.6 per cent of the heavy-duty business, with Kenworth close behind on 20.1 per cent on the delivery of 1759 trucks. In the month of June alone, Volvo delivered an astonishing 497 trucks with Kenworth just 24 units behind on 473 deliveries.
A closer look at the numbers, however, tells a far more fascinating story which not only indicates the formidable corporate might of the heavy-duty sector’s two biggest players, but highlights a remarkable recovery effort by Volvo Group Australia.
Like, for reasons that haven’t always seemed particularly clear, the last few years have been a testing time for VGA. Component supply issues from Europe and the US, embarrassing stockpiles of partly finished Volvo and Mack trucks sitting out the back of the Wacol (Qld) factory, and Volvo trucks fully imported from overseas factories to shore up the local factory shortfall have at various times raised questions about the group’s short-term prospects and even its commitment to local production. From the outside, it seemed UD was the only one of VGA’s three brands able to fully capitalise on increasingly strong demand for new trucks.
VGA insiders led by managing director Martin Merrick have, of course, remained stoically adamant that all these post-COVID issues would be overcome in due course while any suggestions that the Wacol factory’s future was in question were met with absolute rebuttal. Most notable of all though, and as market results now so blatantly reveal, the ultimate goal was to not just overcome the obstacles but in the process, create the platform for an all-out three-pronged assault on market dominance.
Again, numbers paint the picture, verifying VGA’s current ascendancy with Volvo’s formidable figures joined by Mack’s 6.1 per cent on the brand’s record delivery of 533 units for the first half of the year and just barely behind, the ongoing and undeniably impressive half-year performance of UD with 519 deliveries for 5.9 per cent of the heavy-duty market.
All up, VGA’s first half figures amounted to 32.6 per cent (2850 units) of the total heavy-duty category. Or put another way, almost one in every three heavy-duty trucks sold in the first six months of this year came from the VGA stable.
Meanwhile, the other big corporate contributor is obviously Paccar Australia and with DAF’s mid-year result of 4.8 per cent (416 units) added to Kenworth’s 20.1 per cent, there was certainly nothing negative in Paccar’s collective 24.9 per cent for the first half of 2023.
Yet perhaps the most significant assessment of all comes from the combined impact of the two market heavyweights, amounting to 57.5 per cent of the total heavy-duty sector to the end of June. In effect, well over half of all heavy-duty trucks currently sold in Australia come from one of the two stables.
Even in bountiful times such as these, it means the remaining combatants in Australia’s congested heavy-duty marketplace must continue to fight exceptionally hard for a higher notch on the ladder.
Hits and misses
Still, when it comes to overall market dominance across all three weight sectors – light, medium and heavy – no brand comes within a bull’s roar of Isuzu, notching a breathtaking 7099 deliveries in the first six months and almost 4000 units clear of perennial bridesmaid Hino.
Some idea of Isuzu’s increasingly historic market leadership and indeed, an indication of the extraordinary growth in Australia’s demand for new trucks over the past few years can be gleaned from the fact that at the end of 2021, Isuzu Australia cracked 10,000 deliveries for the first time. The following year it delivered more than 13,000 units and now, given its first half performance in 2023, a new record seems as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise.
In light and medium-duty markets respectively, Isuzu’s hold was a tad over 45 per cent in the little boy league and just shy of 50 per cent in the medium class. Notably though, the brand continues to also perform well in the heavy-duty sector and despite the absence of a dedicated prime mover in its extensive model range, accounted for 13.9 per cent of the category with 1210 deliveries.
Yet just as the gap between Isuzu’s figures and the heavy-duty sector’s two front runners might seem a yawning chasm so, too, is the gap between the Japanese brand and its nearest heavy-duty rival, Scania.
At the half-way mark, ‘the other Swede’ held 7.2 per cent of the heavy-duty category on the delivery of 625 units. All up though, this is a strong result for Scania Australia and in large part, verification of a model range which is unquestionably the best in the brand’s long history in this country.
After Scania came Mack, then UD, then the first of the Daimler Truck trio, Mercedes-Benz on 5.2 per cent with 450 deliveries in the first six months of the year.
Hino wasn’t far behind on 5.0 per cent (438 units) but from any angle, Benz’s result was undeniably modest, especially for a brand which not so long ago was a bullet performer on the heavy-duty charts.
Significantly more modest though, was the combined performance of the Daimler threesome. Together, Mercedes-Benz, Fuso (4.3 per cent/374 units) and Freightliner (2.4 per cent/209 units) accounted for just 11.9 per cent of the heavy-duty market to the end of June. According to several sources, supply issues from Europe and the US continue to dog Daimler’s efforts despite the appeal of a modern and largely well-equipped model range.
Perhaps much the same could be said for the Penske pair of MAN and Western Star which, despite completely rejuvenated model line-ups, collectively delivered a lacklustre 213 trucks in the first six months of the year.
Whilst MAN’s numbers of 123 deliveries for a 1.4 per cent stake of the heavy-duty sector were decidedly dour, Western Star’s 90 trucks for 1.0 per cent of the market was an altogether poor performance for a brand which late last year launched an acclaimed range of new X-series models.
Also on the bottom rungs of the heavy-duty ladder at the end of June was Iveco with just 1.8 per cent of the category but there are high hopes within the company that its new S-Way range launched earlier this year will kick-start a stronger presence before year’s end. Time will tell.
The one thing that seems blatantly certain, however, is that the Australian truck market will, for the remainder of this year at least, continue to create unprecedented demand for new trucks.
Worryingly for some though, it could also mean that the big simply get bigger.