Yountville, CA.  Calling it the difference between “a really good year and a good year,” Mark Lampert, senior vice president-sales and marketing for Daimler Trucks North America, said that while heavy and medium duty truck sales have turned sluggish in the first half of 2012, he still expects to see them surpass 2011 totals.

With strong financial performance by the major fleets, decent freight rate increases and an old fleet, “it’s still a doggone good marketplace,” he said during a press briefing at the first public demonstration of the 2014 Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.

In Class 8, Lampert said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that U.S. retail sales will hit 185,000 units this year, compared with 171,358 in 2011. Class 6/7 U.S. retail sales should reach “the mid to upper 80,000s,” well above the 81,889 sold in 2011, he added.

“If you want to call a year of continued growth sluggish, I'll take it,” Lampert said.

Turning to what he called “the one common topic” among his customers, Lampert said natural gas as a fuel for commercial vehicles is now ready for substantial and sustained growth.

If NG trucks account for 1% of truck sales now, “they could very realistically reach 5 to 7.5% within three years,” he told Fleet Owner

In the last two years, the fueling infrastructure of natural gas has developed significantly and the price differential from diesel has remained at or above $2/gal., he said.  Add the availability of Cummins 400-hp ISXG 12L next year to augment the currently available ISLG 8.9L, and you’ve removed the main obstacles to wider adoption of natural gas, according to Lampert.

A talked about federal stimulus package of tax credits, even if modest, could further speed up the growth of NG trucks, he said.