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September 17, 2020 11:15 AM, EDT

August Trailer Orders Trumpet Better Days, Rise 150%

Great Dane trailer A trailer body in production at a Great Dane manufacturing plant. In 2021, Great Dane said it will focus on its new smart trailer telematics system, FleetPulse, which it unveiled in 2019. (Great Dane via YouTube)

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U.S. trailer orders in August topped 27,000 as they rose 150% year-over-year, ACT Research reported. The surge comes just four months after the lowest order number on record.

Preliminary net orders hit 27,500, according to ACT, which cited trailer makers’ initial data.

As the pandemic led into the deepest recession ever, April trailer orders fell to 200, and in May, they were 3,107 — the rock bottom and second-worst figure of all time.

Frank Maly, ACT director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis

Maly

August was a very solid order month, said Frank Maly, director of commercial vehicle analysis and research at ACT. Goods-related freight is available, capacity is tight, and rates are climbing.

A year earlier, U.S. trailer orders in August were 10,762 and had bounced along below 11,000 units for the fourth consecutive month amid near-record factory inventories of undelivered trailers, plus plentiful cancellations.

Now, “fleets are definitely coming into the market and making some noise. Cancellations were low, as well, which is also positive,” Maly said. Orders canceled totaled 1,400.

But it’s definitely a two-sided market with vans, reefers and flatbeds doing well, while vocational categories are having difficulties, he added.

FTR pegged preliminary net orders at 28,700.

Don Ake

Ake

“That’s a great order number for an August,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR.

Part of the August orders include dealer restocking, which no one really expected, Ake said. “Then you get the part where build is stabilizing, and this provides some momentum going into October, when fleets start ordering for next year.”

At the same time, he said trailer production is still running below the first quarter’s pace.

Trailer makers welcomed the change, but some were cautious, even as they readied features for their 2021 models.

David Giesen, vice president of sales for Stoughton

Giesen

Stoughton Trailers is back in growth mode, said David Giesen, vice president of sales. “We are working hard to add capacity to meet the growing demand of the market.”

He said this turnaround was not completely anticipated, but it was good to see the dealer channel “get life again.”

As for model year 2021 trailers, Giesen said further progress is being made in weight reduction, corrosion protection and leak prevention.

Sean Kenney, chief sales officer for Hyundai Translead

Kenney

At Hyundai Translead, all plants are operating and have been all throughout the pandemic, and now “there is a generally optimistic, but still cautious, tone coming from the customers and dealers,” said Sean Kenney, chief sales officer.

“Dealer inventory is lowering at a decent rate with replenishment orders being placed for both stock and specific customers,” he added. “This being said, our dealers have continued to remain appropriately cautious of having too much inventory on the ground as they await improved market and customer certainty heading into 2021.”

Kenney declined to share details about next trailer models.

Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales

Hammond

Great Dane has all plants up and running and is building dry vans, flatbeds, reefer trailers and truck bodies, said Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales. Both end-user orders and dealer-stock orders, especially in the truckload van and reefer segments, are coming in, he said.

As for the rebound from this spring’s lows, Hammond said it makes “perfect sense” after gross domestic product was down over 31% in the second quarter.

“Knowing that businesses would have to reopen and the economy would have to open up, we expected to see an order season come back, which it certainly has done,” he said.

ACT has speculated the 2020 recession stemming from COVID-19 may set a record for severity and brevity — analysts’ estimates call for GDP to bounce back strongly in the third quarter.

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Looking toward 2021, Hammond said the company was focused on its new smart trailer telematics system, FleetPulse.

The system’s built-in, nonproprietary sensors collect precise measurements directly from the trailer’s components, keeping watch over key indicators such as tire inflation systems, open doors, cargo weight, burned-out lights, rear axle weight, ABS fault codes and actual mileage. The data is collected and reported wirelessly back to customers.

“Fleets want to see their trailer’s health from pre-check to final delivery, so that’s the main area of focus for us entering into 2021,” Hammond said.

Great Dane introduced FleetPulse during the 2019 North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta. At the time, a company executive predicted that by 2023, every trailer maker will have some form of a telematics platform on its trailers.

One trailer maker noted the challenges of ramping up to meet demand.

“We have hired back all our laid-off and furloughed people that we could,” said Craig Bennett, senior vice president of sales at Utility Manufacturing Co. “But some 25% did not come back, so we are still hiring new people.”

Bennett said dry van and reefer segments have rebounded strongly, “but there is also some speculation going on in ordering. Some supplier shortages are occurring, too.”

Meanwhile, FTR’s outlook remains cautious because it is unsure how strongly the nation will come out of the pandemic-driven recession and, when it does come fully out, where it will be.

“August was catch-up from where we were before,” Ake said.

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