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February 24, 2020 12:00 PM, EST

Utility Launches Aerodynamic Trailer Tail

UtilityCraig Bennett (left) and his colleagues at the event at TMC. (Joe Antoshak/Transport Topics)

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ATLANTA — Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. introduced its Utility Aerodynamic Tail, which diminishes the normal turbulence at the back of a trailer. It also directs heat from that space, which is important for refrigerated trailers, a segment Utility dominates in market share.

The UAT increases fuel efficiency by 1% and, when paired with low-rolling-resistance tires and Utility’s own trailer skirt, contributes to an overall 3.7% improvement, according to tests the company ran using computational fluid dynamics procedures approved by the California Air Resources Board.

“Fuel is low now, but it will be high again, I predict,” said Craig Bennett, Utility’s senior vice president of sales.

Utility made its announcement Feb. 24 at American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting.

The patented UAT weighs 25 pounds and is intended for dry vans and refrigerated trailers with rear swing doors. It is constructed of an ultraviolet-protected thermoplastic composite and consists of two full-height side fairings and one full-width roof fairing.

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The side fairings are connected to the rear swing doors. Using standard opening procedures for the rear swing doors, the UAT automatically deploys when the doors are closed and folds back when the doors are open with no additional driver involvement necessary.

The roof fairing does not interfere with lock rods or rear light areas and meets all U.S. Department of Transportation photometric requirements for adequate illumination, the City of Industry, Calif.-based company reported. Utility was founded in 1914.

“We tried to make [the UAT] as simple as possible, as low cost as possible, as low maintenance as possible, with no driver interference required and as lightweight as possible,” Bennett said.

The launch comes as the trailer market is slowing, and production could be further limited by parts shortages from Chinese suppliers affected by the spread of the coronavirus.

“While it is not on our shores, parts come from offshore. They come from Asia. There are certain products that are only manufactured in China today. Not a lot, but some. Not so much our parts, but our component suppliers’ parts, like bearings in trailers,” he said.

Some suppliers have started to diversify their production locations, he said.

“That takes time,” Bennett said.

In the meantime, on a year-over-year basis, the trailer industry backlog is down 54%, ACT Research reported in February.

U.S. trailer orders, at 15,000, sank to the lowest total of any January in 10 years, according to ACT.

FTR forecasts U.S. trailer production for 2020 at 262,000 units compared with 329,000 in 2019.

“2019 was a record year for Utility. We are moving forward trying to figure out what 2020 is going to be like,” Bennett said.

For the past 10 years, Utility has had more than 50% of the refrigerated trailer market in North America and been the leader since 1994, Bennett said, and reefers account for 53% of its production. Utility also makes dry vans, and flatbeds and Tautliner, or curtainsider, trailers, which make up 43% and 4% of production, respectively.

“It is pretty unusual to have a 50% market share in any product category in the Class 8 market. So we are pretty proud of that fact and that we have been able to maintain it,” he said. “There are plenty of folks coming into the market who would like to make that not true.”

In 2019, Utility sold 51,911 trailers, good for an overall 15.7% market share of all trailers made. “If you excluded the [kinds of] trailers we don’t make, our number would be a lot higher,” Bennett said.

Meanwhile, he said Utility began work on the UAT about 2½ years ago.

“We have created aerodynamic devices ourselves rather than having third parties do it, because that way we can design them and understand what the testing is, what the actual results are aerodynamically, and we can be sure that the life cycles of the products are going to last as long as the trailer,” he said.

He said a lot of aerodynamic products, including side skirts, in the market today are built by what he called aerodynamicist companies — small businesses that saw a market opportunity but rely on trailer makers to adapt those products to trailers for them.

Bennett added that when those products break, “It’s my experience that customers take them off and throw them away.”

Also, CARB has $65,000 available per electric reefer zero-emissions refrigeration units, he said, as part of an $11 million voucher program.

The catch is only one company — Advanced Energy Machines — builds them, he said. Products from market mainstays Thermo King Corp. and Carrier, a unit of United Technologies Group, do not qualify for the voucher at this point.

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