Despite the spring slump in car sales, no serious worries are yet afflicting a smaller, highly potent sector of the motor-vehicle industry: heavy-duty trucks. U.S. and Canadian sales of these 16-ton-plus rigs, which cost $50,000 to $150,000, are exceeding last year's record 225,000-unit pace. "The industry is building and delivering around 20,000 trucks a month, which means it's running flat-out," says analyst Frank Prezelski of Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co.
To a large extent, truck builders' stellar performance in recent years reflects the resurgence of American industrial competitiveness and the need for more powerful and efficient trucks to speed deliveries. Indeed, many observers regard truck demand as a sensitive economic indicator. Thus, while orders have been slipping recently, Prezelski notes that the backlog still represents about a year's worth of output. "Truck orders are only saying that the economy has slowed, not fallen out of bed," he says.