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Going for groceries: Wabash scales lightweight composite bodies for last mile

Trailer maker books $10 million order for thermally efficient small truck bodies

Trailer maker Wabash Corp. is looking to grocery delivery as the latest application for its molded structural composite (MSC) truck bodies, booking a $10 million order from an unidentified national grocery retailer for delivery in the first half of 2022.

The patented MSC product, introduced in 2015, is growing in importance for Wabash as it reorganizes its first-to-final-mile trailer and body assembly into a single business unit. Trailers with MSC technology have amassed more than 25 million miles.

Wabash (NYSE: WNC) expects to build 220 to 250 MSC trailers this year, advancing to 1,000 in 2022 — half of which are booked orders. The company expects to build 4,000 to 5,000 MSC trailers annually by 2024. The company has not released pricing publicly. A conventional dry van sells for around $30,000.

The new truck body, which will be branded as Wabash, is designed to maximize cargo capacity and delivery productivity on a gross vehicle weight rated (GVWR) chassis of less than 10,000 pounds. They will be built at Wabash’s Final Mile plant in Lafayette, Indiana, and some of its other seven manufacturing plants on chassis from multiple manufacturers.

MSC improves thermal efficiency up to 30%, reduces weight and extends the life of the body, or a 53-foot trailer. The lightweight design also reduces fuel consumption compared to conventional reefers and can be applied to a battery-powered electric chassis.

‘Rapidly growing refrigerated transportation’

“Our cold chain initiative leverages new technologies to add value within the rapidly growing refrigerated transportation and logistics space,” Wabash CEO Brent Yeagy said on the company’s Nov. 9 Q3 earnings call with analysts. “The e-commerce space has been experiencing dynamic growth.”

The launch of a new light-duty, home-delivery refrigerated MSC truck body resulted in the order, which Wabash CFO Michael Pettit hinted about during the Q3 earnings call, mentioning “900 to 1,000 MSC-related truck bodies” as “new business creation.”

The purpose-built design eases installation of a rack-and-tote system used in the food distribution industry. The body features separate temperature zones for fresh and frozen goods, accessible by walk-in side doors that allow the driver to access the cargo. 

The explosion of home delivery for groceries, brought on in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, is creating other opportunities that Wabash is developing in the refrigerated home delivery market.

“The time is right to scale production of this technology for the refrigerated transportation space. Customers are realizing that sustainability initiatives help their bottom line.”

Kevin Page, Wabash corp. senior vice president

“The time is right to scale production of this technology for the refrigerated transportation space,” Kevin Page, Wabash’s senior vice president, said in a press release. “Customers are realizing that sustainability initiatives help their bottom line, and Wabash is moving quickly to provide solutions that improve asset performance while reducing environmental impact.”

Wabash is deemphasizing traditional refrigerated bodies. It is in the process of converting a plant that made 5,000 of those trailers to create additional capacity for 10,000 dry vans by 2023.

“Our MSC technology has undergone careful development, including extensive on-road testing to document the composite material’s ability to maintain temperature efficiently, reduce weight and lengthen asset life,” Page said.

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Wabash National refocuses business on cold chain and e-commerce

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.