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State Of The Trucking Industry

Denise Rondini February 23, 2012

Some bright spots stand out for this year and next.

By Denise L. Rondini, Executive Editor

drondini@randallreilly.com

Things are improving in the trucking industry as freight is moving and the economy is slowly coming back. Ryan Carmichael, research analyst in the commercial products program at Frost & Sullivan, says, “On the sales side things are starting to pick up to previous historic levels, but there still is a bit of the replacement rate to be addressed.”

He anticipates new vehicle sales in the 268,000 range for 2012.

One of the bright spots he sees in natural gas powered vehicles. “Sales numbers are starting to pick up there,” he says. The interest in this market segment is being driven by fuel prices. Even with the increased cost of the equipment, the lower price of natural gas over diesel is bringing payback periods to the two and a half year range.

“People have tried to sell these vehicles on their green aspect, but it absolutely is a dollars and cents story today,” Carmichael adds.

Another bright spot is used trucks, says Karen Braddy, general manager for Manheim Specialty. “Sales for desirable, low-mileage units remain strong and buyers are paying more than ever for a quality used unit.”

Safety and emissions are driving activity in the repair sector, according to Kumar Saha, industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive & Transportation practice. “Regulations and requirements in terms of safety and emissions are driving things like brake system repairs, replacement tires and engine part sales.”

He adds, “Obviously the big story is aftertreatment. Diesel particulate filters are getting to the point where they need to be replaced, so there is some uptick there as well.”

Carmichael sees intermodal becoming a bigger story going forward. “It is going to be about getting optimization out a vehicle, so you are going to see fleets getting into smaller locked routes that service off of rail channels.” He says it will be small steps but that it will reduce the demand for long-haul vehicles.

Carmichael believes this will be in part a result of new drivers entering the workforce who will want to be home more frequently.

Additionally as drivers with less skills enter trucking, Saha believes we will see a growing penetration of things like automated and automatic transmissions, as well as diagnostics and prognostics. “It is possible that these drivers will be less tuned in the equipment so fleets will adapt more advanced technology in order to monitor vehicles themselves,” he says.

 While sales data for medium- and heavy-duty trucks indicates numbers will be up, Braddy does not expect the normal used truck pattern to occur.

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