For World of Concrete attendees, the gleaming new truck models, brightly painted mixer drums, and massive concrete pumps make the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall a favorite destination. The last few years, fleet managers may have felt more like window shoppers than potential customers. But a new survey suggests our industry may be ready to start drawing up purchase orders again.

Fleet managers in the construction industry plan to expand their fleets more than any other sector this year, according to the National Truck Equipment Association’s (NTEA) 2013 Fleet Purchasing Outlook. The association surveys fleet managers representing government and municipalities, construction, utility, delivery, agricultural, and other sectors (including private industries such as engineering, food service, and pharmaceutical) to compile a snapshot of purchasing trends in the work truck industry.

Construction fleets represented 9% of this year’s survey respondents, who were mid- to high-level management professionals with decision-making authority for buying or specifying Class 1-8 vocational trucks. Although not the largest segment, the construction fleet data paints a distinct picture.

Construction fleets are growing

More respondents indicated their fleets would be expanding in 2013. This was especially apparent in the construction sector. More than one-half of construction fleet managers surveyed expected to expand their fleets this year — the largest growth area by far (see Chart 1). Comparatively, about 35% of the utility and telecom sector, 20% of delivery, and only 15% of municipal and government fleet managers expected growth.

The confidence of our industry’s fleet managers may be yet another indication of a slow-but-steady climb to better days ahead. However, the report confirms that hard times have hit the public sector; 70% of government and municipal fleet managers believe their fleet sizes will stay the same this year.

Fleets are aging

Nearly one-half of respondents (41%) said the average age of their trucks was within the normal replacement cycle, while the same number had trucks that were one to six years beyond normal replacement age (see Chart 2).

Most vocational segments reported the average age of their truck fleets was between five and 10 years. Almost one-half (46%) anticipated the age of their fleet would continue to increase; 21% thought it would decrease.

Alternative fuel use increasing (slowly)

According to NTEA, 47% of respondents currently operate alternative-fueled trucks. However, a one-quarter of those surveyed only use alternative fuels in less than 10% of their trucks (see Chart 3). This indicates that only a small percentage of fleets are using significant amounts of alternative fuel, leaving much room for growth.

The most popular alternative fuels being used are E85, biodiesel, and compressed natural gas. Electric hybrid technology is also among the highest reported alternatives.

Of the respondents who currently operate alternative- fueled vehicles, 69% plan to expand their deployment of alternative fuels and other fuel-saving technologies this year. With mandated regulations set to kick in soon, such as the next round of U.S. EPA emission standards in 2014, this will surely be a reality for the construction industry.