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March 17, 2022 11:48 AM, EDT

February Trailer Orders Simmer Amid Supply Chain Limits

HyundaiView of the 360 Hyundai Translead trailer on the exhibit floor at a recent industry show. (Johns Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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U.S. trailer orders edged past 26,000 in February, keeping pace with the past few months, ACT Research reported.

Preliminary data shows orders were 26,500 compared with 25,514 a year earlier, according to ACT, which noted the order pace that closed 2021 and opened 2022 continued for the third straight month in February. In January net orders were 26,595. In December they were 26,382.



Supply chain and staffing headwinds continue to challenge trailer makers in the face of what ACT termed extremely strong fleet demand for equipment.

Frank Maly, director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis and research at ACT, said the backlog volume is in the high 190,000s, and with the most recent build rates that’s a little over eight months. “On average, you are looking well into Q4 and you have situations with dry vans and reefers that are even later.”

Frank Maly, ACT director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis

Maly

At the same time, there are red tags [trailers awaiting a final part before delivery] to be taken care of, he said. “A lot of times that tends to be end-of-quarter type of effort. I would not be surprised to see some that happen with the March data, when we get it. When the financial data comes around, [red tags] become a hotter topic.”

He noted some trailer makers are ramping up to handle additional capacity.

“You have some folks who will be able to get some of the new capacity online. But it will be interesting to see how the supply chain treats them,” Maly said. “You’ve got Wabash planning to expand capacity in 2023. Fruehauf, even as news there has gone quiet, is supposed to be getting capacity up and in action in the second half of this year. You’ve got XPO, and even though they are a captive [making trailers just for the company], it certainly is something that adds volume to the overall industry,” Maly said.

FTR pegged preliminary U.S. trailer orders at 24,600.

“The commercial trailer industry is the most stable it’s ever been,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR. “When this finally breaks loose, order volumes will jump substantially.”

Some previously retired trailers that were being used for storage or drayage are now being refurbished and returned to active duty, Ake added. “Freight growth continues in all segments, so every month the need for trailers intensifies.”

Meanwhile, trailer makers attending American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council 2022 Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition earlier this month, said the general theme was that customers could use more new equipment — apparently from wherever they could find it.

“We were approached by many potential customers, but had to tell them no due to lack of available space,” said David Giesen, vice president of sales at Stoughton Trailers.

David Giesen, vice president of sales for Stoughton

Giesen

Instead, it’s the same repeating story of limited availability of components, affected by limited labor, Giesen said. “Those that have equipment on order were very appreciative, but would like more.”

TMC was well attended, Craig Bennett, senior vice president of sales at Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., told Transport Topics, “but not as large as pre-COVID. But lots of good interactions and content.”

The UtilityConnect tracking system was introduced at TMC in partnership with Phillips as a wire harness supplier, and “generating great interest,” he said.

Meanwhile, customers want to know when they can expect delivery and when they can place new orders for 2023, he said. “We are not taking 2023 orders yet because of cost uncertainty and supply chain disruptions that are continuing. We are working to maximize 2022 output now that the COVID-related absenteeism has declined and people are getting back to work.”

He said Utility continues to face shortages of many essential items, which limits capacity. “I fear this condition will continue throughout 2022 and beyond.”

For Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales at Great Dane, at TMC it seemed like everyone was talking about electrification.

Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales

Hammond

“We were proud to share a look at the future of electric trailering with a zero-emission capable Great Dane Everest reefer in our booth,” Hammond said. It featured a regenerative braking and battery system from Conmet.

Great Dane, he said, is also focused on delivering electric solutions in the growing last-mile segment and has showcased a new electric Johnson truck body, one of its brands.

“We’re optimistic that we are coming out of the challenging times we have seen over the past two years,” Hammond said. “People are coming back to work, and demand looks strong for trailers and truck bodies.”

Sean Kenney, chief sales officer at Hyundai Translead, said the supply chain “appears to be continuing the healing process, albeit slowly. We are in a good position to further increase capacity when the opportunity presents itself.”

At TMC, Hyundai Translead launched HT360 to support customers from purchasing and financing to maintaining their fleet. It also showcased its new HT LinkVue camera system and the myHT customer portal.

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