The surge in orders for heavy trucks isn't big enough to prevent a shortfall in available truck capacity in 2011 and 2012, according to ACT Research.
"We are starting to accumulate a shortage of freight-hauling capacity," said Steve Tam, vice president of the commercial vehicle sector at ACT Research.
Tam said truck capacity reached "equilibrium" last year after the second quarter surge in inventory restocking and has tightened since.
The Cass Freight Index indicates North American shipment volume increased 6.9 percent in March 2011, a gain of 13.8 percent from March 2010. The year-over-year change in expenditures was 33.6 percent.
The shortfall is "fairly benign at this point," about 10,000 trucks, he said, "but we expect it to continue to grow" to 75,000 trucks by the first quarter of 2012. The shortfall will reach 180,000 trucks by the end of 2012, Tam said.
Truck manufacturers received more than 134,000 Class 8 tractor orders in the last five months alone, receiving 29,200 net orders in March, ACT Research said.
The annualized truck production rate is now at 300,000 units a year. Truck makers built 154,290 Class 8 tractors in 2010, a 30 percent increase over 2009.
But many of those orders are for tractors that will replace aging rigs, not expand truck fleets that reduced their tractor counts deeply over the past three years.
"We can't forget about the contraction that took place" in the recession, Tam said. "Even those who are adding capacity aren't going back to where they were."
Investment research firm Avondale Partners estimates truckload capacity dropped a net 16 percent from 2008 through the first two quarters of 2010.
OEMs reported a nearly 100,000-truck production backlog in February, ACT said. That production backlog probably grew by 8,000 to 10,000 tractors in March.
Truck makers are struggling with their own capacity issues, Tam said.
"We believe the industry is constrained by (tight) manufacturing capacity," he said, not so much at truck plants as among manufacturers supplying truck parts.
-- Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com.