Track and Quotes

Show Shipment Information - Track and Trace PackageTrack and Trace
Get a Shipping Rate QuoteRate Quote

New Trailer Orders Up 10%, Led by Spike in Dry Vans
Monday, 01 March 2010 00:00

Orders for new trailers rose 10% in January, compared with 2009, ACT Research Co. LLC reported last week, but the increase may not signal the start of a prolonged recovery, an ACT analyst said.

It was the third year-over-year increase in orders in as many months. Compared with the anemic demand in the 2008 periods, orders jumped 74% in November and surged 140% in December, ACT said.

However, weakness in certain segments of the trailer market suggest that the industry has not yet begun to recover from the disastrous sales tally for 2009, which was the worst in more than three decades, said Kenny Vieth, ACT partner and senior analyst in Columbus, Ind.

“What we would expect would be a lifting of all boats,” Vieth said. “We would be seeing kind of a general improvement across the industry.”

Instead, he said, stronger orders for certain types of trailers made up for weakness in other segments. Tanker trailers and reefers, for example, showed signs of strength.

Conversely, “we had the worst flatbed trailer order month since we started collecting flatbed trailer data back in 1990,” Vieth said. “You see some spots of good news, but you’re not seeing it consistently.

“The trailer market has had a particularly tough go of it, even worse than the Class 8 market,” he said.

Vieth said he expects that the trailer market will begin to firm up in the second half of the year and turn around in earnest sometime next year.

While order data do not yet herald an all-around recovery for the trailer market, the top executive at Wabash National Corp., the only publicly traded trailer manufacturer, said that “the worst is now behind us.”

Richard Giromini, Wabash’s president and chief executive officer, said in the company’s latest earnings report that he was “optimistic about the prospects for our industry.”

The value of unfilled orders at Wabash, Lafayette, Ind., was $137 million at the end of 2009. That total was a modest improvement over $110 million a year ago and up from $96 million at the end of the third quarter of 2009, according to the firm’s latest financial statement.

Meanwhile, trailer registrations last year fell to 67,200, a 52.6% drop from 2008, according to R.L. Polk & Co., Southfield, Mich.

Registrations of dry vans, which represent the largest segment of the U.S. trailer market, fell 54% to 38,650, according to Polk.

Flatbed sales appeared to take the biggest hit, as registrations plunged 69.3% year-over-year to 3,100, Polk data show.

A January report from ACT foreshadowed the precipitous decline in registrations: It showed trailer shipments from factories fell 44% in 2009 to 80,415 units—a 34-year low.

In the van segment, which includes refrigerated trailers and dry vans, Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., City of Industry, Calif., was the top brand, as measured by registrations, Polk data show.

Utility’s registrations bested larger rivals Great Dane Trailers Inc., Savannah, Ga., and Wabash National Corp., Lafayette, Ind., in both the van and flatbed categories, according to Polk.

“The fact that the refrigerated segment was stronger than the other two segments we’re in helped us,” said Craig Bennett, Utility’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Utility builds “over half the reefer trailers in the country,” Bennett said. “We built a little more than that this year.” Overall, the company increased its market share 5% in 2009, Bennett told Transport Topics.

Bennett predicted a modest improvement for trailer sales in 2010—10% to 20% overall—with “a lot of that” occurring in the second half of the year.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any huge rebound this year,” Bennett said.

Transport Topics, 3/1/2010