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Trailer orders tank in July as manufacturers struggle to find workers

Wabash National ‘doing better than most’ in hiring but environment is tough, CEO says

Wabash National says it is "doing better than most" in finding workers to hire, but it is a tough environment for trailer manufacturers. (Photo: Wabash National)

A lack of workers, supply chain disruptions and the effective end of the order cycle combined to push new trailer orders down 58% year over year in July.

Manufacturers would have built more equipment to meet strong demand “if the supply chain would have been more robust,” Wabash National Corp. President and CEO Brent Yeagy told FreightWaves. 

“We have generally met our ramp targets for 2021,” he said. “We could have probably exceeded them based on the demand that we have.”

Suppliers’ own issues attracting workers, coupled with shortages of imported parts and components, make building to order difficult, said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR Transportation Intelligence.

Bottlenecks result in order deficit

“The supply chain is still experiencing disruptions and bottlenecks,” Ake said. “Some improvement in production is expected this year, but there are indications some supplies will be restricted into next year.”

FTR reported preliminary trailer orders of 8,200 units were 32% below June. On a rolling 12-month basis, trailer orders totaled 354,000 as of July 31.

Bookings across dry, refrigerated and vocational trailers were lower as manufacturers held off opening 2022 order books while determining commodity pricing before locking in prices.

When it comes to labor in this environment, perseverance is the name of the game. We’re being creative in how we engage our workforce in order to be an employer of preference in the areas that we operate. 

Brent Yeagy, president and CEO, Wabash National Corp.

“The industry’s been done with 2021 [orders] for months in general and [we] just have opened the books for 2022 in the last couple of weeks,” Yeagy said. “And that is a quick-filling process at this point. 2022 and I would argue 2023 demand planning for fleets started months ago, and we’re just in the throes of booking those deals right now.”

Attracting workers requires creativity

Hiring workers to reduce current backlogs without busting the budget is a challenge, Yeagy said.

“We’re doing better than most, but it is far from easy. When it comes to labor in this environment, perseverance is the name of the game,” he said. “We’re being creative in how we engage our workforce in order to be an employer of preference in the areas that we operate. 

“It’s going to be an interesting ride for the rest of 2021 into 2022 as not only our industry but industries in general continue to ramp with the economic activity that we do have, specifically from a freight standpoint.”

Fleets are desperate, especially for dry vans because the semiconductor shortage is impinging on Class 8 truck manufacturers’ ability to finish trucks. PACCAR Inc., for example, said it “red tagged” 6,500 trucks in the second quarter to finish when parts arrive.

“There is a growing amount of freight to be moved, and the industry continues to struggle to deliver it on time,” Ake said.

Calm before the storm: Muted June trailer orders conceal coming boom

Trailer builders get respite in May as orders edge back toward normalcy

April trailer orders slide but blow away near-zero builds a year ago 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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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.