Trailer orders dip in November but strong demand continues

Three-month bookings second highest in industry history

New trailer orders dipped in November after two near-record months. But even with the pullback, the September-November total added up to the second-best three months in industry history.

“The last few months have been extremely strong for demand and order intake,” Dave Giesen, vice president of sales at Stoughton Trailers, told FreightWaves. “The backlog is filled into Q4.  We will wait for the supply chain to catch up before we continue quoting as this is a long way out.”

After the COVID pandemic practically took orders to zero last spring, a recovery was expected. But not like this.

“This is one of the longest backlogs we have seen for a while,” Giesen said. 

Second-best three months in history

FTR Transportation Intelligence reported that net trailer orders came in at 41,400 in November after orders exceeded 50,000 in both September and October. Orders in the last 12 months total 270,000, well ahead of predictions before the pandemic.

“There is growing optimism by the fleets of a vibrant freight market in 2021,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “Strong freight growth is constraining capacity, fueling the need for additional trailers.”

Fleets presently raking in cash like they are now tend to bulk up on equipment orders to replace older trailers and add capacity.

Dry van strength continues

Dry van orders placed to accommodate increased shipments of consumer goods backed off recent record highs but continue to show robust strength. “More trailers are needed to handle the fast, multiple moves of consumer goods ordered through e-commerce,” Ake said. 

Demand for refrigerated trailers continued to grow. Flatbeds used in construction and manufacturing recorded their highest orders since January 2019. If a long-delayed federal infrastructure bill gets traction in Congress, flatbed operators could benefit In 2021.

The industry has now had six consecutive months with solid year-over-year gains in net orders and November will likely rank in the industry’s top 10 months, according to ACT Research.

“It is always a concern of will things cool down and when it will happen,” Giesen said. “Currently, it does not seem to be a short-term blip. But all will hinge on the strength of the economy.”

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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 He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.