The trucking industry's aftermarket may face another tough sales year because of what one executive calls a "sluggish" economic recovery.

"We aren't facing the same difficulties as we were six months ago, but the market isn't as good as we thought it was two months ago," said Tom Gosnell, president of ArvinMeritor's commercial vehicle systems and aftermarket division.

In a speech at the National Wheel and Rim Association's (NWRA) annual meeting this month, he added that the aftermarket would continue to be a cyclical industry, though the pressures of the current downturn are starting to ease.

ArvinMeritor believes the total worth of the commercial vehicle aftermarket hovers around $20 billion a year, including everything from replacement parts and body panels to electronics and brake shoes.

Late last year, ArvinMeritor had predicted that aftermarket sales would decline slightly in 2002, then enjoy a strong rebound in 2003. However, Gosnell's reassessment points to a delay in that market rebound.

"We have begun to see the used truck surplus reducing, the trade cycles will continue to extend to about five to seven years, and the overall fleet population will continue to expand," Gosnell said.

He noted that as the used vehicle surplus decreases, overall commercial vehicle age will increase, and that should lead to higher parts demand and consumption.