A large majority of fleets plan to place orders next year for Class 8 trucks, according to CK Commercial Vehicle Researchs Annual Fleet Study for 2012, and average equipment age is coming down.

Each year, CK Commercial Vehicle Research, Columbus, Ohio, conducts a fleet study with the members of its fleet advisory panel, who represent small, medium and large for-hire, private and government fleets. Seventy-seven representatives responded to this year's questionnaire, done in the first half of October.

In the survey, 84% of respondents who operate Class 8 vehicles plan to place orders for 2013 delivery; the same percentage as last year. However, overall unit numbers are up 24% for Class 8 vehicles, up by four percentage points from last year's survey.

27% of respondents indicated they plan to add some capacity with power unit purchases, but overall units designated is small.

The survey found 56% of fleets operating medium-duty trucks plan to place orders for 2013, compared to 33% last year. While a higher percentage of fleets plan to place orders for medium-duty units, the overall volume percentage is about half of what it was last year.

In addition, 71% of trailer operators plan orders for 2013.

When asked about some of the options being spec'ed on power units next year, the big winners were LED lights, air-ride suspensions, roll stability control, and wide drum brakes, all with more than 70% of fleets responding planning to spec these features. When asked about what specs would be new for them this year, a number of fleets mentioned air disc brakes, on both tractors and trailers. Automatic tire inflation or monitoring systems were mentioned on trailers.

The availability of quality drivers continues to pose a challenge. In the survey, 29% said they are working more closely with shippers to improve driver productivity. Among for-hire fleets, that percentage rises to 42%. In addition, 16% said it would affect the number of units they buy next year, and 15% said its prompting them to spec their vehicles differently, such as using automated or automatic transmissions.