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Truck sales have fallen with the economy. But as stimulus spending increases, producers will put their trucks into service in greater numbers.

Fleets are aging as new trucks are not replacing older ones. Even after selling their oldest trucks, the average age for most fleets has increased by a full year or more just since 2007. Part of the reason is the economy. And part is because of the large price increases for 2007 models due to the high cost of diesel particulate filters (DPF) used to meet EPA 2007 emissions regulations.

Waiting to buy

Although prices will rise significantly for EPA 2010 engines, few producers are planning to buy 2009 models to beat the increases. None to whom I spoke intend to buy 2010 models until the economy improves.

The federal government and various state and regional groups have funds available for initiatives to help clean the air. These include hybrid trucks, natural gas conversions, and diesel upgrades with DPFs.

The stimulus package provides $300 million to be administered by the EPA to fund the National Diesel Emissions Reduction Program. This makes grant money available to heavy-duty diesel vehicle and equipment owners to retrofit their fleets with cleaner engines. For more, visit www.epa.gov/otaq/diesel/grantfund.htm.

Fleets are aging all across the country, but with the greater longevity of modern running gear, that may not be as bad as it seems. A generation ago, big-bore diesel engines needed overhauls at 300,000 to 350,000 miles of on-road use. Today, many go 1 million miles or more.

Some fleets are considering glider kits. Gliders are complete new trucks without engines, transmissions, and drive axles. Originally developed to salvage good drive trains after crashes, a ready-mix glider can take advantage of life remaining in components at about half the cost of a new truck.

Stimulus funding is working its way to contractors. Maintaining and right-sizing a fleet is difficult enough, but the process will be complicated by the need to quickly vary capacity to meet changing needs. Producers that diligently maintain credit lines will be in the best position to expand when the economy picks up.

Paul Abelson is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations and is currently on the Board of Truck Writers of North America. E-mailtruckwriter@anet.com.