April was the worst month for new Class 8 truck sales in the U.S. market in more than three years. To find a worse month, you’d have to go back 37 months to February 2017.

A total of 12,986 new Class 8 trucks were sold in April, according to information received from ACT Research (actresearch.net), a decline of 47.6% from the 24,480 sold in the same month of 2019. April sales dropped 23.1% from 16,892 sold in March.

Of those trucks sold this April, 8,156 were fifth-wheel-equipped tractors, down 30.1% from March sales of 11,673 and down 25.5% from April 2019 sales of 18,303.

The remaining 4,830 trucks, or 37.2%, were vocational units equipped with dump, refuse or other bodies. The percentage of vocational trucks is typically 25% to 30%, so the higher percentage in April indicates that sales of over-the-road trucks are taking a bigger beating than sales of vocational trucks. The April number was 7.5% lower than March sales and 25.5% lower than April 2019 sales.

The declining sales were not unexpected, as numbers were already running nearly 28.0% behind last year’s pace. A condition of overcapacity in the freight market and uncertainty over economic conditions had already combined to put a damper on the market.

Then came COVID-19.

The closing of overseas manufacturers slowed imports; then the shutdown of domestic businesses deemed “nonessential” depressed available freight levels to crisis proportions.

May sales aren’t expected to be much better, if at all, despite the gradual relaxing of stay-at-home orders and the reopening of businesses. That’s because of the time it takes to restart an economy that has been virtually shut down.

“It takes a lot of people marching at the same speed to turn the manufacturing sector back on,” said Kenny Vieth, president and senior analyst at ACT Research, noting that, even though