That's one of the takeaways from the CK Commercial Vehicle Research's fourth quarter Fleet Sentiment Report.
The FSR Buying index, a simple measure of fleets planning to place new orders in the next three months, dropped to 74 from the third quarter's 90.2, but is still in higher territory than the 50s and 60s seen in the previous three quarters. (The index uses the first quarter of 2008 as 100.)
The lower index number was primarily due to lower expected trailer orders, and may reflect some caution after slower freight growth in the third quarter of the year, note the report's authors.
In the next three months, the survey found that 41.5 percent plan to place orders for new medium and/or heavy-duty power units (including leased) in the next three months. That's lower than the third-quarter number, but still above the four-quarter moving average. The survey showed 18 percent plan to buy used power units rather than new.
While the number of fleets planning orders is less, the average size of those orders is higher - better than all quarters of the survey back to the fourth quarter of 2008.
Much of these orders are to replace aging equipment. Only a quarter of the fleets planning purchases were doing so to add capacity, and all of those were for-hire fleets. Interestingly, the ones that are adding capacity tend to be the smaller fleets in the survey. The report speculates that the smaller fleets may not be facing the driver shortage issues that larger fleets are, which limits their ability to increase capacity.
The larger fleets planning orders have made decisions about the engine technology they're going to use to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's 2010 emissions requirements - enhanced exhaust gas recirculation or selective catalytic reduction - but smaller fleets are still concerned about what they see as unproven technology, according to the report.
Over the last three quarters, the survey reports continued movement toward choosing SCR. Factors impacting the engine technology decision include cost, reliability, fuel mileage, emissions, experience of other fleets, and whether the engine is available from their preferred truck OEM.
When asked about spec changes, some fleets were moving to air disc brakes or wide-base single tires on their power units. There was also movement to safety specs such as collision avoidance, lane departure warning and roll stability.
For trailer orders, 52 percent are buying dry vans, 26 percent reefers. Some new spec changes include the addition of aerodynamic trailer skirts, air disc brakes, and roll stability technology.
No government fleets surveyed are planning power unit or trailer purchases. One fleet responded, "We will run out of equipment we can keep on the street prior to any purchase. We will reduce our equipment footprint, not from a lack of need, but a lack of money."
For fleets not planning purchases, they were asked when they do expect to place their next order. More than 40 percent plan to place orders in the first half of 2011.
The Fleet Sentiment Report is published by CK Commercial Vehicle Research, Columbus, Ohio. More info at www.ckcvr.com.