HANNOVER, GERMANY. Taking a stab at “the fortuneteller business,” Martin Daum, president &CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), expects 2011 Class 6 to 8 truck sales to be around 250,000 units for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. While that’s “better than this year”, he said during an interview at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show, “that’s still a low, very low number for Class 6 to 8.”

Large purchases by major fleets early in 2010 had given DTNA some optimism that the year’s Class 6-8 sales numbers would come in considerably higher than2009’s 187,000 units. But when smaller fleet orders did not follow in early summer, the maker of Freightliner and Western Star trucks took down its forecast to 210,000 units.

“When you consider that the long-term average for NAFTA Class 6-8 sales is between 300,000 and 350,000 units, that is a bad year,” Daum told Fleet Owner.

Asked if there has been a structural change in the North American trucking industry’s overall fleet size and equipment purchasing strategies, Daum said: “Yes, definitely in Class 8. The average age [of the overall truck fleet] has never been higher, and the life cycle of today’s trucks are longer.”

Initial cost for a Class 8 truck is also higher, so fleets also have to leverage that investment more, he said. “And we just build damn good engines now. The days of the 4-year trade-ins are over,” he added. “There’s a clear trend to 5-year/500,000-mi. trade cycles now.”

“Fleets are also using their equipment more productively,” said Andreas Renschler, head of DTNA’s parent Daimler Truck. While the structural change in fleet equipment ownership “may not be forever, it will be around for a long time,” he said during a roundtable discussion with the North American tpress during the truck show.

In another fleet equipment shift, DTNA’s Daum noted that fleets are now ordering “four or five different specs” when they place a large order. “They used to order a single spec,” but are now closely tailoring trucks for specific applications, he said.

One consequence is that sales of trucks at the high end of Class 7 are growing, “because they realize they don’t need a Class 8 for those shorter hauls,” said Daum. “They can get a better-suited, less expensive truck for that segment