DETROIT, May 3 (Reuters) - North American orders for Class 8 semi-trucks jumped nearly 50 percent in April as trucking companies struggled to add capacity in a tight U.S. freight market, but the pace of orders cooled from highs seen in the first quarter, FTR, a company that tracks the industry, said on Thursday.
Preliminary orders for the big 18-wheelers that haul freight along the highways of United States, Canada and Mexico hit 34,700 trucks, up 47 percent from 23,538 in April 2017.
But while April orders were solid, they lagged the first quarter where orders topped 40,000 trucks in all three months.
The tight U.S. freight market means many rail and truck customers are grappling with how to defend profit margins as transportation costs climb at nearly double the inflation rate.
"These order levels will continue to put pressure on the (manufacturers) and suppliers to increase production and output," Jonathan Starks, FTR's chief intelligence officer, said in a statement. "The market will stay red-hot into 2019."
"The question remains: how hot can they run?"
Full-year 2017 orders for Class 8 trucks came in at 290,000 units compared with 164,000 in 2016. The United States is by far the largest market in North America.
The main truck makers in the U.S. market are Daimler AG , Navistar International Corp, Paccar Inc and Volvo AB. (Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by David Gregorio)