Trailer sales slide as fleets order only what is ‘absolutely necessary’

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Trailer orders last month followed Class 8’s downward trend, falling 54% from February and 55% from March 2019, according to FTR.

The 6,500 units ordered last month were held in check by the COVID-19 pandemic, as carriers are cautious and anxious about the virus.

“The orders placed in March are for units that are perceived to be absolutely necessary for relatively short-term needs,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. The months ahead are unlikely to see significant improvement as “fleets will also delay replacing older trailers until the economic situation stabilizes,” he added.

Last month’s orders did exceed last June’s 5,600 total when some large fleets canceled dry van orders as the freight market cooled, Ake said, noting trailer orders for the past 12 months now total 177,000 units.

“This is a severe wait-and-see situation with a potentially long wait period,” he said. “Expect orders to track around the 10,000-unit mark for a few months as a result.”

Totals in March did include some cancelations, with weakness in dry vans due to some large fleets canceling orders that were spread out over the remainder of the year. With manufacturing partially shut down in March flatbed orders also suffered.  Refrigerated van orders fell, but not to the same degree as other segments, FTR noted.

“It is expected there will be some over-capacity in the short-term due to the enormous number of new trailers that entered the market in the last three years,” Ake said. “Some of those trailers will sit idle during this rough economic downturn. They will go back into service gradually as things recover. However, this will limit new trailer demand for a while.”

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]