March Class 8 truck orders were 11% below February, according to FTR Associates' preliminary data, and below the trucking forecasting firm's expectations. One explanation could be higher fuel prices.

At 19,682 units for all major North American OEM's, the numbers were 32% below the same month of 2011 and reflect the third consecutive month-over-month decline in Class 8 orders. The first quarter 2012 Class 8 order activity annualizes to 266,800 units.

"There is no 'good' explanation for the weaker orders," says Eric Starks, FTR's president. "We had expected something in the low 20,000 unit range.

"The weakness was fairly broad based and not focused on just one OEM. In fact, there was some dealer ordering by at least one OEM in the numbers for restocking. If you take out those restocking numbers then the orders were even weaker.

"It is our sense that fleets are gun-shy in pulling the trigger as the recent run-up in diesel prices is giving truckers food for thought before they place an order. Right now it is relatively easy to get a build slot, so there is little incentive to place orders for later delivery or to get in line.

"These numbers also suggest that the proposed mid-year OEM build increases are now in question. We will still need to wait and see what happens in the next two months, but I don't see anything that suggests a large uptick in orders is on the way."