September Trailer Orders Spike With Order Book Openings
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U.S. trailer orders in September notched their first year-over-year increase for 2023 as order books for next year began to open, according to ACT Research.
Preliminary data for the month show orders increased 21.8% to 31,300 units from 25,700 in September 2022 while also soaring 172% compared with August’s preliminary total of 11,500 units. The increase was expected with the opening of 2024 order books and shouldn’t be considered a bellwether for big gains ahead, said Jennifer McNealy, director of commercial vehicle market research and publications at ACT Research.
“While this certainly is a welcome sign for the industry and the first time in 2023 that year-over-year comparisons have been positive, one month of robust orders does not guarantee the full year,” she said. “It’s still too early in the new year order season to call.”
McNealy noted that the data are showing mixed messages. For example, she said that while order discussions are occurring and quotes are converting to booked business, cancellations remain elevated — particularly in the dry van segment.
[October's State of the Industry: U.S. Trailers Preliminary Update] - Preliminary net orders post seasonal spike in September.
Get the update ➡️https://t.co/FHPvyXpwNk#Trailers, #Transportation, #truck, #trucking, #ACT, #ACTResearch pic.twitter.com/529bSiXO0b — ACT Research (@actresearch) October 18, 2023
While a jump in activity is normal when order books open, demand last month couldn’t match the prior two years when the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions spurred the market, said David Giesen, vice president of sales at Stoughton Trailers.
“Demand is not as strong as it’s been for the last two years, but it’s there, which is good,” Giesen said. “This is how it played out. Hopefully, we don’t run into a recession. You hear a lot of talk about that in the media today. That would negatively impact things. If things just keep plugging along the way they are, it’s going to be pretty normal.”
Giesen noted that September was “a pretty large month” for Stoughton, pointing specifically to business from large fleets. “That’s why you see the number for the industry going up, and everybody’s [opening order books for 2024] at this point,” he said.
FTR Transportation Intelligence Chairman Eric Starks said during a September conference that he expects annual trailer production next year to total 243,000 units. That compares with an anticipated total of 324,000 units in 2023.
“We saw strong order intake in September — as we expected — since we only opened the new model year the week prior to the start of the month,” said Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales at Great Dane. “We expect October to be reasonably good for intake at Great Dane, but we do see some areas of the business slowing down. We believe the ACT and FTR forecasts for softening across all trailer types to be directionally accurate. Great Dane will continue to focus on our core customers and segments in 2024.”
Dan Taylor, sales manager at Western Trailer, doesn’t foresee any significant upside for trailer business until midway through next year but also pointed out that any gains will vary by trailer category.
“As far as the over-the-road market, it’s still down,” Taylor said. “I see the dry vans picking up. Our reefer market is still down, [and] I don’t anticipate it coming back until maybe next spring. I don’t hold out any high hopes for that. I hope that there’s a seasonal change-out where people look at their equipment and say, ‘It’s time to do away with some of this stuff.’ [But] I think most people are going to hunker down and try to make it through the winter with them.”
Taylor said the two biggest complaints he hears from customers center on freight rates and interest rates, but he noted that interest rates have been higher in the past. He believes customers have simply grown accustomed to the low interest rates that were available during the stretch when freight rates were higher.
“I think the whole industry still tends to be rather tentative in its planning for next year,” Hyundai Translead CEO Sean Kenney said. “The freight situation, economic situation, I think everybody’s a little concerned.”
Kenney stressed that year-over-year comparisons are difficult since conditions haven’t been normal for the past two or three years, but he also said economic uncertainty is causing some hesitancy among trailer customers.
“I think the timing for the increase in orders is normal,” Kenney said. “Everybody’s got their order boards open and everything else. If there wasn’t such a concern over next year, I think, maybe they would have been larger. In other words, some fleets are holding back in their decision-making even now based on the economic uncertainty that we face as an industry and as a country.”
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