Trailer orders hit near-record highs

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U.S. net trailer orders for September reached 52,000 units, according to preliminary data released Monday by FTR, the third-highest month on record.

Orders last month soared 23,500 units over August and were 33,400 higher than September 2019. Trailer orders for the last 12 months total 224,100 units. Recent surge in demand should lift backlogs back to December 2019 levels, and strong order totals from the last two months should push trailer production back to pre-pandemic levels to close out the year, with more increases expected, starting early next year.

FTR Vice President of Commercial Vehicles Don Ake noted “just an enormous amount of demand for dry vans (last month),” driven by fleet expansion, equipment replacement cycles and dealers building inventory count. “Fleets are expecting the hot freight market to continue into 2021 and want to be prepared with adequate capacity.”

Ake expects strong reefer demand to continue, benefiting from increased restaurant activity into 2021. Flatbed orders are expected to continue a sluggish recovery.

Congressional stimulus package cash is being spent overwhelmingly in the consumer goods sector, boosting dry van freight, tightening capacity and lifting freight rates. Fleets have responded by ordering dry vans in near-record quantities. Despite reduced restaurant sales, many consumers have more disposable income available to spend on food, which is helping reefer sales.

“This appears to be a repeat of late-2018 when fleets ordered trailers in record numbers in September and October because of tight capacity and perceived limited build slots at the OEMs,” Ake said. “There could be some irrational exuberance behind orders this high. Fleets are expecting the current conditions to continue well into 2021, and this may not be the case.”