Prime Mover Magazine

Rigid truck science

Rigid truck science

Capitalising on booming online sales and increasing urbanisation, the rigid truck community may have found a way to turn the tide on an otherwise stagnating truck market.

A defining trait of Australia’s national identity is the ability to thrive in the face of adversity, as cricket great Matthew Hayden famously stated ahead of the 2007-08 test against Sri Lanka. “You never want an Australian with his back against the wall,” he said. “You put any 12 blokes together and you’ll get a job done. Whether it’s getting a bogged four-wheel-drive off the beach or standing in front of a cricket wicket and making sure we’re in a dominant position. It’s the same dog, different leg action, so to speak.”

When Matthew made his now frequently cited observation, he most certainly didn’t have the nation’s transport equipment industry in mind. But in the face of a slowing economy and on-going political quarrel about the future of Australian manufacturing, it is now seeing an unlikely revival in the truck making community.

Scarred by lacklustre sales and shaken by the effects of a fast-fading mining boom, the industry has been tumbling toward the proverbial wall for the best part of 2015, but instead of letting negativity become the new normal, it has found a way to turn adversity into opportunity – or make use of a different leg, as Matthew would put it.

With heavy truck sales all but stagnating, truck makers are now eyeing the light and medium-duty end of the industry for new growth potential, as recent statistics collated by the Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association (ARTSA) confirm.

The ARTSA figures show that new registrations for heavy vehicles with a GVM above 12 tonnes declined 11 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014. Within that category, heavy trailers were down 20 per cent and prime movers dropped 12 per cent, while heavy rigid registrations rose three per cent. In the medium-duty category (4.5 to 12 tonne GVM), new registrations rose 4.8 per cent compared with 2014 – and again, rigid trucks stood out with a 6.4 per cent rise.

“We’ve only been monitoring Australian commercial vehicle registration data for a two-year period, but the verdict is clear – there was a contraction in new heavy vehicle registrations over the past 12 months that especially hurt the prime mover segment. Only rigid trucks saw growth,” says Dr Peter Hart, Chairman of ARTSA. “There are now about 210,000 medium-duty rigid trucks and about 170,000 heavy-duty rigid trucks delivering freight in Australia. In comparison, there are 52,000 registered single-trailer prime movers and 40,000 multi-combination prime movers, so rigid trucks outnumber prime mover by about 2 ½ to one.”

He adds that in a market where retirement rates are accelerating – heavy vehicle retirements were up 37 per cent compared with 2014, whereas medium rigid retirements increased by 21 per cent – rigid trucks are now important contributors to fleet growth.

One reason for the segment’s relative resilience to economic woes could be its inherent versatility, Peter says, with applications reaching from general freight deliveries through to concrete mixing. In fact, 21 per cent of the rigid market currently fall under the ‘special vehicle’ banner, indicating that applications for the construction and waste industry continue to be important drivers of growth within the segment, he explains. 

Peter also found that the annual growth rate for dog trailers over the past two years was a healthy 2.8 per cent, indicating the rigid and dog market will also provide growth potential over the coming season.

More exclusive information on the Australian rigid body market in general can be found in the new edition of Prime Mover - out now!

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