ALLENTOWN, PA. While the burst of truck sales seen between March and May has flattened in the last part of the year, Class 8 truck sales will still top 2009 numbers by 20% and next year should see sales in the NAFTA region top 200,000 units, according to Denny Slagle, president & CEO of North American Trucks, the parent of Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks North America.

Despite slowing trucks sales over the summer, “this recovery feels like it has legs,” Slagle told a group of fleet customers and dealers at the opening ceremonies for Mack’s new Customer Center. Having used the downturn of the last three years “to drain the swamp and get ready” for a recovery, Slagle said Mack was “in the best position it’s been in in 10 years,” with a smooth transition to EPA 2010 engine technology, consolidated manufacturing of its entire vocational and on-highway models at its Macungie, PA, plant, and a number of new powertrain products, including a Mack automated mechanical transmission.

It’s 2010 engine lineup, in particular, has brought Mack “a big increase in orders in the last three months,” he said, with 3Q truck orders up 86% over the same quarter in ’09, and up over 40% compared to 2Q 2010.

The one lagging portion of the market is vocational truck sales tied to construction, but Slagle told FleetOwner even there Mack is seeing “hopeful signs.” An uptick in vocational-truck parts sales “may indicate that more trucks are going back to work,” he said. “But whether [construction] recovery will be in 2011 or 2012, we just don’t know yet.”

With freight rates firming and a lot of capacity out of the market, on-highway carriers should drive next year’s heavy-duty sales over 200,000 trucks, especially since the average age of that fleet has gone from six years to eight since 2006, Slagle said. But those fleets “still are being cautious, careful,” he said, and just how far past 200,000 that number might go will depend largely on how confident consumers feel.

Whenever the recovery does take off, Mack has made the investments to be in position, Slagle said. “This new Customer Center represents another significant investment [made during the downturn] and is one more tool in our arsenal,” he said. “I see this opening today as a great coming out party.”