September 29, 1998 3:40 PM, EDT

Truck Sales Are on Fire

Sales of heavy-duty trucks soared in June with little sign of letting up.

Manufacturers sold 18,043 trucks in the U.S. retail market last month, up 24.4% from the same month last year, according to figures supplied by the American Automo-bile Manufacturers Assn.

In the year-to-date, the industry has moved 98,549 trucks, 17.2% more than in 1997 and the second highest six-month total in the 1990s.

Other market indicators remain positive. Truck orders are strong -- 27,568 units in June -- the cancellation rate is relatively low at 10% and the industry's backlog stretches past 11 months, according to data from ACT Research.

So will the second half of the year fulfill the first half's promise?

There is some difference of opinion.

Peter Toja, president of Economic Planning Associates, Smithtown, N.Y., expects a Class 8 market slowdown in the second half of 1998.

Thom Albrecht, an analyst with ABN AMRO Inc., Chi-cago, doesn't see overcapacity on the horizon.

We don't feel like excess capacity is going to be a prob-lem in the truckload industry for the rest of this year," he said. "As long as the gross domestic product can remain at 2.5% or higher, it won't be a problem in 1999, either."

Meanwhile, Class 8 manufacturers -- with a few excep-tions -- posted huge gains in June.

Market leader Freightliner Corp. sold 5,498 trucks, a 45.4% surge over last year's numbers.

Volvo Trucks North America continued its blistering pace, selling 2,227 trucks in June, 58.3% more than last year. Overall, Volvo is 52.1% ahead of 1997's six-month total.

The medium-duty market surged as well, as manufacturers sold 26.6% more trucks than in June 1997.

Six-month Class 3-7 sales stand at 148,862 trucks, a 16% improvement over last year.