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March trailer orders stabilize but supply chain issues stunt production

Manufacturers struggling to keep up with COVID-driven consumer goods demand

March orders for new trailers stabilized but supply chain shortages hampered production. (Photo: Great Dane)

Preliminary orders for new trailers in March dramatically outpaced the COVID-impacted slowdown a year ago. But it is bittersweet for manufacturers who love the new business but are hampered by supply chain shortages preventing them from filling the orders.

“The supply of materials is a critical limiter in being able to ramp up production at many plants,” Chris Hammond, executive vice president of sales at Great Dane, told FreightWaves. “I suspect this constraint will push some of our customers’ 2021 needs into 2022, meaning we should expect a strong year next year as well.”

FTR Transportation Intelligence reported Wednesday that preliminary U.S. net trailer orders of 27,400 units rose 6.4% over February and 20,700 units above the year-ago period when pandemic-induced shutdowns took hold across manufacturing.

ACT Research reported preliminary March orders of 29,500 new trailers, up 12% from February and more than triple the year-ago volume. 

FTR reported 346,000 trailer orders on a rolling 12-month basis.

Key products sold out for 2021

A few large dry van fleets added to 2021 requirements. Flatbed and other vocation trailer orders remained steady. Great Dane’s backlog mirrored the industry — sold out for the year in dry and refrigerated vans but some capacity remaining for flatbed and specialty trailers, Hammond said.

“Pressure is building up in the trailer market,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “Backlogs are at record levels. And fleets desperately need more trailers. Capacity is very tight in some areas of the country, and spot [freight] rates remain near record highs.”

Trailer makers facing various component and material shortages are holding off opening order books for 2022 until they can better understand what prices will look like.

“We are really concentrating on executing and managing supply chain challenges for this year and are planning how to manage customer demand next year,” Hammond said.

Supply chain issues should ease

Ake said the supply chain issues should improve in the second half, allowing manufacturers to whittle away at orders that streamed in at record levels in late 2020. Orders should moderate in the coming months based on seasonal trends, allowing manufacturers to catch up.

“The trailer market is poised for another vibrant year,” Ake said.

Frank Maly, ACT director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis, expects backlogs to grow even as the March snapshot of production suggested positive movement on both a daily and a year-over-year basis for the first time since July 2019.

“Staffing challenges and component and material supplies remain a concern as production ramps,” Maly said.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.