Trailer orders close year near 2019 low point

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Trailer orders for 2019 went out with a whimper, logging just 16,500 units – the lowest since August, according to FTR. December order performance was down 17% month-over-month and slid 41% year-over-year.

FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles Don Ake said fleets are showing the same caution in acquiring trailers as they are with new trucks.

“Freight is forecast to grow only about 1% this year, putting little pressure on fleets to boost trailer capacity as they did the last few years,” he said. “However, total freight levels remain elevated and trailer production for 2020, although down significantly from 2019’s record year, is forecast to be good from a historical perspective.

The large carriers are being careful with their ordering strategy, Ake said, by placing smaller orders with shorter lead times than what is typical at the end of a calendar year. Weakness in the manufacturing segment, tariffs and the raucous election cycle that kicked off 2020 has created uncertainty and “buyer nervousness,” Ake said, and is expected to increase throughout the year due to the presidential race and conflict in the Middle East.

“Fleets are expected to continue to replace old trailers based on their standard trade-in cycles,” he added. “Van trailers sales, spurred by strong consumer spending, are still doing better than the vocational segments.”

Trailer orders for 2019 totaled 203,000 units.

“Trailer orders should stay in the 20,000 unit a month range for a while as fleets continue to carefully match orders with short-term demand,” Ake said. “Eventually, the manufacturing sector should recover, generating more orders for flatbed and dump trailers.”

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]