October 21, 2021 3:45 PM, EDT

September Trailer Orders Clear 28,000; Uncertain Conditions Persist

trailersWorkers assemble new trailers at Stoughton Trailers’ manufacturing plant. (Stoughton Trailers)

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U.S. trailer orders in September reached the third-highest level this year, clearing 28,000. But that was far short of year-ago volumes, according to ACT Research.

ACT said net orders were 28,127. A year earlier, net orders were 51,208.

September was a soft opening of the order board, industry analysts said.

Companies held back waiting for more clarity on the supply chain that has fostered a new operational model for managing uncertainties, Frank Maly, ACT’s director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis, told Transport Topics.

“I’ll swap modes,” Maly said. “Ever been near a train that started from a dead stop? Bang, bang, bang; all the cars banging against each other. Nothing is smooth at that point. That’s kind of where we are.”

Frank Maly, ACT director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis


Maly said he heard of one trailer maker creating an hourly bonus if workers show up for a full work week — to ensure the manufacturer had a consistent staff level.

“And even with that, they have issues with people showing up five days in a row,” Maly said, and noted the broad shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic’s early days may have gotten people wondering what’s really important to them and how much money they really need.

Maly also said production rose significantly in September as some “red tag” trailers — that were works-in-progress due to unavailable parts — were finally finished. “Everybody says they have trailers sitting on the sidelines waiting to get completed.”

Researcher FTR pegged net orders at 28,300.

“It’s a very deceptive number in September. It’s skewed by several large dry van fleets placing large orders,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR. “If you took those out of the mix, the number would actually be lower than August.”

August orders were 12,366.

Ake said the state of the market means unfilled orders are rolling over into 2022 from 2021, and there’s uncertainty over commodity prices and components costs — making it difficult to price the cost of a trailer beyond the first quarter.

“We have never seen anything like this now. In any other year, no matter what the fluctuations were, trailer makers had a great amount of certainty about [first quarter],” he said. “This is just unprecedented.”

Hyundai Translead told TT that it recently opened quotes and orders for 2022.

“We anticipate that we will fill quickly for 2022,” said Sean Kenney, chief sales officer at Hyundai Translead. “It is highly doubtful that the industry will be able to produce enough equipment to meet the demand for the year.”

He agreed the supply chain remains very challenged on multiple fronts.


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Ake said all aspects of the trailer-making business are affected: marketing, financing and purchasing have challenges that they never had before.

“I worked for a component supplier and I just can’t imagine the mood where all your company departments have different interests and goals and they all have to try and coordinate and come together in this environment,” Ake said. “It’s difficult.”

Stoughton Trailers continues to pass on price increases and although customers do not like this, “none of ours have walked away,” said David Giesen, vice president of sales at Stoughton. “As a matter of fact, our customers keep asking for more trailers, even as we hand them a price increase.”

He said Stoughton does not have an “order board open for all” simply because there still is too much uncertainty in costs, availability and labor.

At Great Dane, the order board is open for a portion of the year, said Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales. “Customer demand continues to be above capacity for all trailer manufacturers.”

Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales


He added: “I think employee retention is a concern for anybody in the U.S. doing business and we are not immune to that situation.”

At the same time, notions about what a basic trailer is and what it must have on it are changing to emphasize the equipment’s intelligence.

This focus on smart trailers is guided by operational improvements, emerging food safety regulations and the advance of autonomous trucks.

“The pandemic just slowed down some of the transitions in technology. They haven’t stopped,” Ake said. “The pandemic and the supply chain issue right now have just overridden a lot of that.”

Great Dane sees six trends that will define the future of truck and trailer connectivity:

  • Increased use of electronic control units in trailers.
  • Advances in edge computing [done at or near the source of the data].
  • Autonomous vehicles will command how connectors are designed.
  • Changes in the physical shape of trucks and trailers will determine the needs of the new units.
  • There will be deeper collaboration between truck and trailer manufacturers.
  • Improvements in manufacturing and implementation will help scale these new technologies and help bring them to market.

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