Recent data from ACEA confirm that 2015 was a year of positive growth for the EU27 heavy (16t and over) truck market, the 260,135 sales total representing a gain of 42,269 units, or 19.4% versus the previous year's 217,866-unit result. It was also a welcome further gain from the improved market levels seen in 2013 (231,662) and 2011 (236,512) and a vast improvement from the dismal market levels seen at the end of the previous decade (2009: 157,947).

EU27: Heavy-duty (16t and over) commercial vehicle registrations, 2009-15

2009157,947
2010171,258
2011236,512
2012214,086
2013231,662
2014217,866
2015260,135

Source: ACEA

The 2015 EU27 market total of 260,135 was driven by year-on-year gains in sales levels in every month of the year, with encouragingly positive results in the final two months – November and December year-on-year gains coming in at 25.1% and 22.4%, respectively.

UK growth outpaces rest of Europe

Key to this growth was the performance of the UK heavy truck market – the EU's third largest by volume – its 32.1% gain in 2015 comfortably outpacing below-average gains in Germany (+5.3%) and France (+12.7%). UK heavy truck sales totalled 35,783 in the year, versus 27,095 in 2014 with the final month of 2015 registering a massive 97.1% year-on-year gain as sales hit 3,562, the second largest December total across the EU27 region (behind Germany).

Previously reported data from the UK's SMMT had shown that this growth in the UK was focused in the high-value, three-axle artic (tractor unit) segment, where 2015 sales hit 18,768, compared with 13,324 in the previous year, a jump of 40.9%. Sales of rigids over 16t accelerated 27.2% year-on-year, to 14,650 (11,515). However, it should be remembered that 2014 had seen a distortion in fleet renewal patterns resulting from regulatory changes, with the introduction of the Euro 6 emissions standard at the start of the year and new EC whole vehicle type approval legislation at the end. These factors resulted in 2014 sales falling to 27,095 from the previous year's buoyant 37,811, a total that was driven by 'pull-through' sales. 

Highlighting the very strong end to the year, the December artic total alone, including two-axle units, was up 75.9%, at 1,930 units (1,106), while the rigids total was up no less than 155.1%, at 1,237 (485). 

Major industry participants, led by DAF, Mercedes-Benz and Scania, believe the heavy end of the UK truck market is currently more robust that at any time since 1988. January 2016 figures appear to back this up, total heavy-duty truck registrations in the month – at 1,707 – being 627 units, or 58.1%, ahead of the January 2015 total. Year-on-year growth in the artics segment was 155% (1,073, versus 499), with 121% expansion of the three-axle segment alone (968, versus 438).

The German and Swedish OEMs (in that order) led the UK artic segment in 2015 while DAF led sales of multi-axle rigids, helped by buoyancy in the construction sector. Based on 2015 UK sales of all trucks above 6t (44,063), DAF retained market brand leadership with sales of 11,467 (+33.1%) and a share of just over 26% (24.9% in 2014). The Paccar-owned Dutch company, which also claimed a 23.9% share of the heavy-duty sector alone, was followed by Mercedes-Benz with sales of 8,052 (+24.2%) and share of 18.3% (18.7%) and Scania, with sales of 7,075 (+48.9%) and share of 16.1% (13.7%). 

Capping off a good year for the UK industry, SMMT data also show that total UK commercial vehicle production (all classes) in 2015, at 94,479 units, was 33.3% ahead of the previous year's total of 70,869, with 41,179 (+35.1%) exported, helped by positive demand trends in Europe, which accounted for 88% of total exports.

A mixed picture for other European markets

Set against the strong year-on-year performance of the UK heavy truck sector in 2015, Germany had relatively subdued growth, its 3,061 gain in unit registrations between 2014 and 2015, taking the latest year's total to 60,947. France performed a little better, with registrations gaining 4,158 units, taking the 2015 total to 36,856, the gap with the UK market narrowing to just 1,073 units (5,603). Indeed, the UK's strong performance in the final month of 2015 (+97.1% year-on-year, to 3,562 units) versus France's (+17.4%; 3,365) was sufficient to drive the market into second place behind Germany. 

Other significant EU market winners in 2015 (in percentage growth terms) were Spain, where 2015 registrations topped 19,151 units, 38.7% ahead of the previous year's result, Poland (20,236; +31.7%), Netherlands (12,390; +34.4%) and Italy (11,896; +25.3%). The prize for the record year-on-year gain amongst all countries went to Lithuania, its 70.5% leap taking registrations to 3,609 (2,117). The only country of the EU27 to see a market decline in 2015 was Estonia, where the 703 units sold were three short of the previous year's total, although very slow growth was also recorded in Sweden (+2.5%), Croatia (+2.6%) and Ireland (+3.7%). 

ACEA data for EFTA registrations also show 2015 market declines of 7.4% in Switzerland and 5.2% in Norway. The EFTA total in 2015 was 7,047, 5.6% short of the 2014 result of 7,462.

The EU27 + EFTA registrations total in 2015 was thus 267,182, 41,854 units, or 18.6%, ahead of the previous year's 225,328. ACEA's 2015 registrations total for Western Europe (defined as EU15+EFTA) was 215,010, against 185,333 in 2014, a market rise of 16.0%.

As indicated, the year ended very positively across many of the EU27 markets, the overall total of December registrations, at 20,839, being 22.4% ahead of the December 2014 total of 17,031. Clearly, the UK market played a key part on this, but some other major markets also saw improved growth rates relative to the annual trend – Germany reporting 7.6% year-on-year growth in December registrations, France 17.4%, and Poland 27.3%.

Big three report strong sales in 2015 and positive bookings for 2016

The recent annual financial and sales results from some of the key truck market players indicate a generally positive outlook for the European heavy truck market in 2016, a positive outlook that contrasts with an expected (if modest) cyclical downturn in North America and continued weakness in Latin America, most notably Brazil. 

Scania reported year-on-year growth in its truck deliveries in Europe through every quarter of 2015, the year's final total reaching 43,082, versus 34,088 in 2014, a rise of 8,994 units, or 26.4%. Importantly, a similar positive trend was reported in truck orders, the Q4 2015 total being 11,660, versus Q4 2014's 10,851 (+7.5%) and the full-year total being 47,692, versus 36,737 (+29.8%). Henrik Henriksson, Scania's new President and CEO commented: "In Europe, demand remained high during the fourth quarter. Scania's position in the European market is strong with a market share of 16.5% compared to 15.1% in 2014, thanks to a leading Euro 6 range. The continued segment focus and a broad engine range for alternative fuels, also contributed." 

Referring to order bookings, the company also noted: "Demand rose in several of the major European markets such as France, Poland and the Netherlands. Order bookings rose sequentially in Europe in line with the seasonal pattern in the European market." Scania's market share estimates were based on EU26 plus Norway and Sweden market totals in 2015 and 2014, which it detailed as about 266,700 and 224,800, respectively (ACEA data indicates 267,062 and 225,246), and its own sales of 43,900 and 33,900. Scania does not provide details of its outlook for 2016, but the order trend at the end of 2015 undoubtedly indicates positive momentum, both for the company and the overall heavy-duty truck market in Europe, going forward.

Scania: Truck orders and deliveries in Europe, 2014-15 (units)

20142015% changeQ4 2014Q4 2015% change
Order bookings
Europe36,73747,69229.810,85111,6607.5
Deliveries
Europe34,00843,08226.710,91512,46214.2

Source: Scania

The Volvo Group's performance followed a similar path. The company reported a total of 86,448 truck deliveries across Europe in 2015, up 19.3% from the previous year's 72,458, of which 71,169 were defined as being in markets in Western Europe – ahead 24.8% from 2014's 57,038. Totals include trucks below 16t GVW. The 2015 Western Europe total comprised 34,614 Volvo brand trucks (+14.7%) and 36,554 Renault brand units (+36.0%). Highlighting the robust end to the year, total Q4 2015 truck deliveries in Western Europe were ahead 26.1% year-on-year, at 21,217 units (Volvo +10.3% and Renault +44.5%). 

The group's total Q4 2015 truck orders in (all of) Europe amounted to 25,686, a useful 4,291 (20.1%) rise over Q4 2014's 21,395, with the Volvo and Renault brand totals at 14,090 (+24.1%) and 11,596 (+15.5%), respectively. Total 2015 orders in Europe amounted to 92,905, versus 79,731 in the previous year, a gain of 16.5%, with the individual Volvo and Renault gains at 12.1% (49,882 units) and 22.1% (43,023 units), respectively. 

Unlike Scania, Volvo does offer a 2016 outlook for the Western European heavy-duty truck market. According to the company's own data, the 2015 market amounted to 270,000 (EU28 + Norway and Sweden), versus 227,612 in 2014, a rise of around 18.6%, and this is forecast to rise to rise to 280,000 in 2016 – an upgraded forecast from the company's previous 275,000 estimate. This is expected to reflect "the expectation of continued economic recovery in Europe." 

Volvo's data indicate that in 2015, the Volvo brand secured a 15.7% share of the heavy-duty truck market in Europe in 2015, down from 16.6% in 2015, while the Renault brand share was 8.1% (7.8%). Although no share predictions are given for 2016, the company's new President and CEO Martin Lundstedt, will be hoping that the reorganisation of the truck business by truck brands, due for introduction on 1 March 2016, will help re-energise this market performance in Europe. 

Volvo Group: Truck orders and deliveries in Europe, 2014-15 (units)

20142015% changeQ4 2014Q4 2015% change
Europe truck orders, of which79,73192,90516.521,39525,68620.1
Volvo44,50749,88212.111,35514,09024.1
Renault35,22443,02322.110,04011,59615.5
Europe truck deliveries, of which72,45886,44819.320,80525,91724.6
Volvo42,47846,0368.412,22313,4089.7
Renault29,98040,41135.88,58212,50845.7

Source: Volvo

At Daimler, the Daimler Trucks division reported 2015 unit sales in Western Europe of 64,799 trucks – up 12.9%, or 7,386 units, from 2014's 57,413, with an acceleration of year-on-year growth in Q4 alone, when sales of 21,498 units were ahead 21.3%, accounting for a third of annual sales. The Q4 rise in the German market alone was 34.8%, as sales accelerated to 11,403 from 8,459. 

Daimler's improved performance came about despite slipping market shares in the combined medium- and heavy-duty truck segments in Western Europe and in Germany. Although the share in Western Europe in Q4 2015 reached 24.5%, just ahead of the full-year 2014 result of 24.4%, weakness in previous quarters meant the 2015 full-year share slipped to 22.5%. The 2015 versus 2014 drop in Germany alone was a more pronounced 290bps, as share fell to 36.9% although, on a brighter note, the company saw significant gains in Q3 and Q4, the latter seeing share rise to 41.3% (38.1%). Speaking at a post-2015 results conference, Bodo Uebber, Daimler's chief finance executive noted: "In Western Europe, we increased our sales by 13% to 65,000 units and maintained our market leadership in the medium- and heavy-duty segment." 

As with Scania and Volvo, incoming orders in Western Europe showed healthy gains through 2015, the final total of 64,906 being 10,054, or 18.3% above 2014's 54,852. Orders in Germany alone accelerated 24.7% to 30,499 (24,460). 

Without providing specific forecasts, Daimler's take on the European market in 2016 is: "The European market so far seems to be fairly unaffected by the uncertain development of the world economy, and should continue its recovery with slight growth this year." Referring to its own performance in 2016, the company has added: "The division expects to sell slightly more vehicles in Western Europe than in 2015."

Daimler Trucks: Truck orders and unit sales in Europe, 2014-15 (units)

20142015% changeQ4 2014Q4 2015% change
Order bookings
W Europe54,85264,90618.314,58515,5426.6
Unit sales
W Europe57,41364,79912.917,71821,49821.3

Source: Daimler Trucks

Positive outlook for 2016 in Europe

The consensus from these three leading truck OEMs, based on order data and/or forecasts, is therefore that the heavy-duty truck market in Western Europe in 2016 should see a positive, if not spectacular growth trend. With Iveco (CNH) not providing detailed data on European sales trends and MAN yet to report on 2015 performance, the only other OEM to offer a perspective on 2016 is DAF. According to Paccar's report on 2015 performance, DAF estimates the 2015 market for trucks in Europe above 16t totalled around 269,000 (226,000), the highest level since 2008, and that its market share rose to 14.6%, versus 13.8% in 2014, with registrations rising around 36% year-on-year, to 39,400 units (31,200). The 2016 market is forecast in a wide range – 260,000-290,000 – which represents growth of around -3.0% to +8.0%.

In summary, the heavy-duty truck market in Western Europe clearly saw a significant gain in registrations in 2015, with a strong finish to the year apparent in many of the key markets, most notably the UK. Of more importance going forward, order totals from some of the major players were also robust throughout much of 2015, with the position remaining strong as the year ended. Truck OEMs remain reluctant to go on record with detailed market forecasts for 2016 but it is clear that optimism abounds – a welcome area of brightness against the (apparent) darkening market background in North America and continuing weakness in Latin America. 

With (significantly) downgraded growth expectations for China's heavy-duty truck sector in 2016 and a flat market expectation for Japan, much will rest on the positive development of the European market (as well as projected healthy volume growth in India of 15-20%) as a key driver of sales growth and improved financial strength for Europe's major truck OEMs in the coming year.