Truck sales jumped in October compared to the previous month, although they're still down from year-ago numbers.

Class 8 U.S. retail truck sales for October were 8,500, according to data from Ward's Communications, up from September's 7,769. October 2008 saw sales of 12,073. Year-to-date Class 8 sales stand at 65,880, down from 110,128 the same time a year ago.

The news follows reports from earlier this month on Class 8 North American orders, where month of October saw an uptick for all major North American OEMs, with orders totaling 21,792 units. The month's volume indicates a 104 percent boost over September and a 117 percent year-over-year rise. For the last three months, Class 8 orders have seen an annualized rate of 172,300 units, an improvement over the first half of 2009.

On the medium-duty side, Class 7 U.S. retail sales were 3,793, up from last month's 3,428. In October 2008, 4,355 Class 7 trucks were sold. Year to date, Class 7 sales stand at 32,545, compared to last year's 43,085.In Class 6, October sales were 2,296, up from September's 2000. Year-to-date Class 6 sales are 18,354, compared to last year's 33,596.

Analysts believe we may be seeing something of a pre-buy, as signs of an economy starting to come back up off the bottom give fleets the confidence to go ahead and buy some trucks before large price increases hit in January for engines compliant with EPA's 2010 emissions regulations.

ACT Research, in its latest "State of the Industry: Classes 5-8 Vehicles," indicated Class 8 new orders were up across all three North American regions as well as exports. Medium-duty Class 5-7 net orders were also at their highest level of the year, up 50 percent from the prior year.

"The sharp spike in orders and the near-term placement of a majority of the orders is a clear indication of pre-buy activity in the United States and Canada," said Kenny Vieth, partner and senior analyst with ACT.

"All indications are that the October increase is due to the filling up of remaining 2009 production slots for trucks with the older 2007 engine technology and to avoid the new 2010 engines, which due to tighter emission standards will be more expensive and will employ new technology," said Eric Starks, president of FTR.

The reluctance of fleets to buy 2010 equipment right out the starting gate is borne out by the 2009 Fleet Study conducted by CK Commercial Vehicle Research. Respondents to the study were wary of committing to placing orders for the new equipment in the first half of 2010. Even the 42 percent of respondents who said they might place orders characterized, on average, the actual probability that trucks would be purchased in the first six months of 2010 at 50 percent.

However, ACT's Vieth pointed out that Mexico and non-NAFTA export markets also had stronger orders, likely indicating increased confidence in the economic outlook as another factor in the October jump.

International has the lead in Class 8 market share, according to Ward's, at 28.82 percent year to date, with Freightliner close behind at 26.12 percent. International's also leading in Class 7, with 38.75 percent, followed by Freightliner's 30.17 percent; International dominates the Class 6 numbers, with 51.04 percent year to date, Freightliner in a distant second at 19.09 percent.