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Truck Talk: Trailer troubles edition

Navigating kinks in the trailer supply chain and playing Yo-Yo with the Tesla Semi

This week, we’re looking at how trailer industry leader Hyundai Translead is coping with a raft of supply chain issues preventing it from taking full advantage of demand, mixed signals on the Tesla Semi and some other electrification buzz.

An imperfect storm

You might think that trailer makers would be thrilled with month after month of strong orders. A bigger backlog is good, right? That’s not necessarily the case. We talked this week with Sean Kenney, chief sales officer at Hyundai Translead, North America’s No. 1 dry van and No. 3 refrigerated trailer manufacturer. Here are his answers to three questions.

Trailer orders are strong. How are you coping with your backlog?

“Right now, and really since the end of the year, we’ve had very little backlog growth. We’re full for ’21. While we’ve contemplated opening [orders for] ’22, we haven’t done so yet. A lot of it has to do with the commodities environment we’re in. Steel and aluminum have shot up. But the other piece is calming and rightsizing of the supply chain, which is just really struggling at this point.”

How is trailer manufacturing affected by the supply chain shortages?

“There is some level of impact due to semiconductors when you get into the [antilock brake] ABS systems and roll stability control. But largely it’s raw input materials. It’s steel. It’s aluminum. On a much smaller level, it’s HDPE [high-density polyethylene]. That’s the core that goes between steel layers for composite trailers. Even wood for the trailer floors is constrained.”

With production maxed out this year, how does 2022 look?

“Between the supply chain constraints and the OEM constraints, there is a lot of anxiety being built up about getting production for 2022. The customers are certainly voicing that. It is a situation where we are going to be forced to open [orders] sooner than may be comfortable just to satisfy the anxiety of the industry. It’s a truly remarkable environment. I’ve dealt with rising costs before. And I’ve dealt with supply chain shortages. Neither has been on the level that we’re dealing with. And I don’t recall doing that at the same time.”

Hyundai Translead trailer manufacturing line in Rosarito, Mexico, and Sean Kenney, Hyundai Translead chief sales officer. (Photos: Hyundai Translead)

Dude, where’s my trailer?

Great Dane can answer that. It is launching FleetPulseGO for pre owned trailers that uses its FleetPulse trailer telematics platform that goes along with the FleetPulsePRO integrated smart trailer. FleetPulseGO provides live GPS monitoring when the trailer is on the move and checks in every 12 hours when it is sitting. The system also keeps track of dwell time and historical breadcrumb tracking on where the trailer has been.

Semi tough

So what do we make of the ongoing saga of the Tesla Semi? Pepsico’s Frito-Lay plant in Modesto, California, expects to deploy 15 electric Class 8 tractors before the end of the year. Electrek says it confirmed those 15 are part of an order of 100 Tesla Semis Pepsico placed in December 2017.

Just where and how those trucks will be built is unclear. They could be early builds from the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. Tesla posted jobs for Semi production there. And it has named Jerome Guillen, its former president of automotive, as its first president of trucking. Electrek quotes sources as saying the plan is for five Semis a week from a low-volume production line.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk flashes hot and cold on Semi production. Last summer, he said it was time to get serious about production originally planned for 2019. Then, during his year-end 2020 earnings call in January, Musk said a shortage of battery cells could delay production. More important was his math. Selling cars that use a fifth of the batteries of one Semi just makes sense.

Next, style-freshened Semi prototypes began showing up, including this Tesla-released video of the Semi on a track. And orders are still coming in. MHX Leasing, a full-service logistics operator in California, booked 10 trucks as part of its efforts to electrify its fleet in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. 

Last weekend and again on Tuesday, Musk dampened expectations about battery shortages.

Feels a bit like playing with a Yo-Yo.

Tesla Semi on the track. (Photo: Tesla)

Electric buzz

In case you can’t get enough electrification news, you’ve come to the right place. A few weeks ago, we talked about electric school buses. How about an electric bucket truck? Con Edison, Lion Electric and Posi-Plus are developing the country’s first all-electric bucket truck capable of doing everything electric utilities require of such vehicles.

Con Edison owns 300 bucket trucks. They are critical for building and maintaining the electric grid that is a key to the success of electric vehicles. The zero-emissions Class 8 bucket truck is based on the Lion8 platform. It will cover 130 miles on a single charge and top off its batteries in about eight hours using a pair of Level 2 chargers.


Speaking of Lion, the Canadian manufacturer of all-electric medium- and heavy-duty urban vehicles has received its biggest single order of Lion6 and Lion8 trucks. Pride Group Enterprises is all over zero-emissions trucks. The Lion order might be hedging its 150-unit order of Tesla Semis. (See above) Pride also has a 6,320-unit order of electric delivery vans pending with Workhorse Group.

Incentives! Get your incentives!

Based on the number of press releases about incentives available for electric truck purchases, it would be easy to think there is an unending stream of money. There isn’t. Volvo, Mack, Kenworth, Peterbilt and Workhorse are among the manufacturers touting eligibility for the California HVIP incentive program. Volvo points out that its VNR Electric Class 8 tractor is eligible for a whopping $120,000 spiff per unit. 

The HVIP program has $25 million to dish out this year. The application process opens in late spring. The HVIP gets attention because California leads all states in zero-emission regulations, requiring 9% of heavy-duty trucks to be pollution free by 2024. Volvo points out that at least seven other states and a couple of Canadian provinces offer some pretty generous price supports too. 

Happy birthday

Cake and candles for the 25th birthday of the VNL, flagship of the Volvo Trucks North America lineup. When it arrived in 1996, the VNL ushered in the aerodynamic era in heavy trucks. Over a quarter century, Volvo has manufactured more than 450,000 VNLs.

The Volvo VNL at its 1996 launch (Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading.


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.