An ongoing boom in Class 8 truck orders continued into March, according to preliminary data gathered by ACT Research Co., with net orders within North American markets rising to 29,200 units last month from 24,300 in February.

“March finished off a second consecutive quarter of elevated Class 8 demand,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT’s president and senior analyst, stressing that preliminary net order figures are subject to revision within roughly plus or minus 5%.

Vieth added that the number of orders in March translates into annual demand of over 300,000 new Class 8 units and noted that industry backlogs, which fell just short of 100,000 units in February, likely rose by another 8,000 to 10,000 units in March.

ACT’s numbers dovetail, if not exceed, projections by truck makers themselves. Ron Huibers, senior vice president-sales and marketing for Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA), recently noted at the 2011 Mid-America Trucking Show that his company believes Class 8 sales should top 220,000 units this year.

Both of Paccar Corp.’s truck manufacturing subsidiaries are also predicting strong growth in medium- and heavy-duty truck sales this year compared to 2010.

Bill Kozek, general manager for Kenworth Truck Co., believes total industry Class 8 sales will exceed 200,000 units this year, a big jump from the 125,000 sold in 2010, as “cautious optimism” among fleet customers spurs them to finally replace aging vehicles.

Bill Jackson, general manager for Peterbilt Motors Co., is projecting total industry Class 8 sales will top 210,000 units this year, with medium-duty sales reaching 50,000 units. To meet demand, Peterbilt has added a second shift to its Denton, TX, production facility and is ramping up its build rate to 100 heavy-duty trucks per day.

Overall, ACT’s Vieth noted that net orders this March were up 159% over the same month last year, representing the largest monthly order intake since May 2006. The question now facing OEMs is whether they can ramp up their production lines fast enough to meet demand.

“With the uptrend firmly established, the question for 2011 now is the industry’s ability to meet demand, instead of whether demand would rise to expectations,” Vieth said. “History shows that production always chases demand at the beginning of the cycle. Unlike orders, the industry needs to work in unison to raise production.”