Net orders for heavy trucks jumped 20.2 percent in March to 29,200 units, the largest monthly order number since May 2006, according to ACT Research.
The preliminary data shows truck orders, spurred by rising freight demand, surged in March after dropping by 3,000 units, or 11 percent, in February.
The truck manufacturing industry is shifting into high gear, with truck orders coming in at an annualized rate of 300,000 units a year, according to ACT Research.
But the Columbus, Ind.-based research firm still predicts a 75,000 truck capacity shortfall by the end of 2011 and a 180,000-truck deficit by the end of 2012.
"We can't forget about the contraction that took place" during the recession, said Steve Tam, vice president of the commercial vehicle sector at ACT Research.
"Even those who are adding capacity aren't going back to where they were" before the shipping decline in 2007 and 2008 and the 2009 recession, he said.
Truck makers built 154,290 Class 8 tractors in 2010, a 30 percent increase over 2009. Several recent months saw triple-digit percentage increases in orders.
"The question for 2011 is now the (manufacturing) industry's ability to meet demand," said Kenny Vieth, president and senior analyst at ACT Research.
"History shows that production always chases demand at the beginning of the cycle," Vieth said. "The industry needs to work in unison to raise production."
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