A December spike in preliminary commercial trucks net orders last year is generating a more positive outlook for truck sales in 2012, according to industry analysts.

ACT Research Co. reported that preliminary net orders of Class 8 trucks in North America topped 30,100 units in December – higher than forecasted, the firm stressed – while net orders for medium-duty Classes 5-7 vehicles exceeded 13,300 units.

“This is a really happy place to be,” Steve Tam, ACT’s vp-commercial vehicle sector, told Fleet Owner. “This level of order intake was better than anticipated and was more than sufficient to support ACT’s 2012 forecast. Even if orders don’t continue to increase sequentially, we have enough of a backlog cushion that our outlook remains solid.”

Tam noted that the commercial vehicle order backlog now stands at 130,000 units, a figure he describes as “quite healthy,” which more than supports ACT’s total 2012 commercial truck sales forecast of 296,000 units for the North American market.

“To support that forecast, we just need to maintain 25,000 net orders per month for 2012,” he explained. “For the fourth quarter last year, net orders went from 28,000 (October) down to 20,000 (November) and then up to over 30,000 (December) averaging out to 26,000 orders per month – more than enough to support our forecast.”

Preliminary net order numbers are typically accurate to within 5% of actual figures, Tam noted, and final numbers are expected to be compiled and released by mid-January.

FTR Associates also believes the spike in December orders bodes well for truck sales in the New Year. Its preliminary data showed December Class 8 truck total net orders for all major North American OEMs topped 29,777 units in December – the second highest level in three years – with December orders up 46% month over month and up 11% year-over-year.

Jonathan Starks, FTR’s director of transportation analysis, pointed out that Class 8 orders for the final three months of 2011 annualize to 312,000 units.

“The rebound in orders to finish 2011 reaffirms our confidence that new truck demand will not wane in 2012. In fact, the six month annualized order rate of 280,000 units confirms our outlook for this year: modest growth over 2011, but relatively flat production versus the last six months,” he said.

However, Starks expects to see orders ease late in the first quarter as trucking operations prepare for the start of the freight season.

Mega truck dealers are also sharing the positive view of analysts concerning truck sales this year. In terms of retail Class 8 truck sales volume for 2012, W. M. “Rusty” Rush, president & CEO of Rush Enterprises, told Fleet Owner in an interview late last year that he expects volumes in 2012 to remain relatively flat in comparison 2011. “In short, 2012 is going to be pretty consistent with this year,” Rush noted.

However, he also expects truck sales volumes will continue to steadily grow year-over-year as the average age for commercial vehicles remains at historically high levels.

“People get too caught up in the change in orders from month to month or quarter to quarter,” he said. “What’s been pretty obvious, however, is that the industry has been significantly under the normal annual replacement demand of 190,000 to 200,000 units for the last five years, so they still have lots of trucks to replace.”