FTR Associates says 2010 Class 8 sales will be affected by the new EPA mandate, but says the amount of truck freight moving at year-end could be good news for truckers and suppliers.

FTR has increased its estimates of the amount of truck freight that was moving at year-end 2009. If sustained, they say, the stronger freight picture will result in higher truck rates and better financial results for truckers in 2010 and higher truck and trailer sales in 2011.

"Higher freight demand will cause the existing large overhang of surplus equipment to be worked down more quickly, translating into the potential for more units to be sold in 2011," says Eric Starks, president of FTR.

Because of the EPA 2010 pre-buy, however, FTR says to expect higher sales in the first half and a second-half slowdown.

"While freight demand will increase throughout 2010, actual build numbers for Class 8 vehicles will likely be higher in the first part of the year because of the late pre-buy activity for vehicles with pre-2010 emission engines. Our 2010 production forecast remains unchanged, but this demand for 2009 vehicles will pull ahead build to the first half of 2010 at a corresponding decline in second half numbers."

Looking further ahead, during a presentation during Heavy Duty Dialogue last month in Las Vegas, Starks predicted that freight levels won't hit a new peak until 2014. When it comes to truck demand, he said, "We don't see levels getting back to 2006 levels anytime soon."

There is still a lot of surplus equipment out there, Starks said, saying last year there were about 450,000 trucks idle or substantially underutilized.

"One thing that always seems to come up is this issue of average age - the trucks are getting so old the fleets have to replace them," he said. "It's all about useful life - it doesn't matter how old it is, it matters how many miles are on it, and can it be used another two, three or five years." Because lower freight levels have resulted in fewer miles being put on trucks, and because equipment is built to last longer than it used to be, he said, "age is not as important this time."