March 6, 2017 2:15 AM, EST

Trailer Product Lines Expand; Orders Soar 92% in January

Joseph Terry/TT

This story appears in the March 6 print edition of Transport Topics.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Capitalizing on strong replacement demand, trailer makers said they are expanding product lines and features amid industrywide orders that skyrocketed 92% in January to more than 32,000.

U.S. net trailer orders reached 32,737 compared with 17,027 in January 2016, ACT Research Co. reported.

The January tally followed orders of 34,713 in December and 36,475 in November, according to ACT.

“What we are seeing is an environment that will be somewhat off from the record year in 2015 and the third-strongest year ever in 2016,” ACT President Kenny Vieth told Transport Topics. “From a total trailer build standpoint for the whole industry, I think we will see a fairly strong year somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 to 260,000 total units.”

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Although the pent-up demand story is perhaps showing its age, he said, “I think there is still an opportunity to upgrade the fleet.”

Wabash National Corp. CEO Richard Giromini agreed.

About 40% of active trailers are in excess of 15 years old, he said. “Customers are catching up,” including smaller ones.

“What we are starting to see is activity in the indirect channels through our dealers, so it is that middle market [smaller fleets] that is responding more, which is a good sign that the year can remain strong,” Giromini said in an interview with Transport Topics at the Technology & Maintenance Council meeting here.

Wabash displayed on the show floor a refrigerated trailer with underlying technology that Giromini called “one of those leapfrog moments.” He added, “Ten years ago, no one would have thought that a molded structural composite thermal trailer would even be possible.”

The trailer is 20% lighter than a conventional trailer, improves thermal efficiencies up to 25% and its floor rating is 24,000 pounds, or the same as a dry van’s, to increase backhaul opportunities, the company said.

Strick Group does not see demand letting up in 2017 compared with late 2016.

“In January, the floodgates opened,” Jon Karel, a Strick regional sales manager, said at the TMC meeting. “The first quarter is very strong with quoting and customer orders.”

Strick’s backlog already is into September, he said. “Late-February last year, we were to June-July.”

Strick showcased an electric auxiliary power unit on a trailer that featured a Volta Power System unit with [higher density] lithium ion batteries and a 48-volt alternator that is 80 pounds lighter than a traditional 12-volt alternator — adding speed and a heavier lift, for instance, to liftgates, the company said.

At Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., refrigerated and dry vans last year each had more option content.

“People are customizing,” Larry Roland, Utility’s director marketing, said at TMC’s meeting. “And food service is still incredibly strong.

“We built a few less trailers in 2016 than in 2015, but we had much higher hour content. If the mix is higher-option content trailers, you’ll fill up your factories with [profitable] hours and you’ll build hours versus just trailers.”

At the TMC meeting, Utility introduced its redesigned flatbed trailer, the 4000 AE, with a steel main beam and aluminum rails, crossbars and structural floor. It is within 100 pounds of the weight of some all-aluminum flatbeds, is 536 pounds lighter than the previous version, and comes reinforced in the center for up to a 47,000-pound coil of steel or a similarly concentrated load, the company said.

January has “put the industry in a good and normal position with order volumes, interest level and to really normal lead times. This is the time we build backlog. Things are healthy,” David Giesen, vice president of sales at Stoughton Trailers, said at the TMC meeting. “Dealer volume is doing well. We signed up Ervin Equipment in November last year. They are going to be one of our biggest dealers and are pre-ordering trailers to sell.”

Stoughton said during the show it has a new, more thermally efficient refrigerated trailer in fleet tests. It will be available to order in the fourth quarter for production in the first quarter of 2018, the company said. Among the features, the door is triple-sealed, and the floor has a standard rating of 12,000 pounds and a heavy-duty rating of 16,000 pounds.

Also, its redesigned rear-impact guard is standard equipment on all new trailers and available as a retrofit kit for Stoughton trailers built within the past 10 years. It was expanded to prevent underride at the protective device’s outer edges, known as a 30% offset crash, Stoughton said.

Efforts to reach other trailer makers for comments were unsuccessful.