Depressed freight levels combined with excess capacity and the ability to extend equipment life should translate into continued reduced demand for dry van trailers in 2010, though sales should pick up over the levels experienced in 2009. That being said, dry van trailer manufacturers believe a spate of new regulations, both at the federal and state level and especially in California, may spur demand for lighter, more aerodynamic, and thus more fuel-efficient trailers. And with the average age of dry van models still increasing, fleets may have no choice this year but to step up and schedule replacement purchases as needed, OEMs say.
“The trailer industry is coming off one of the worst years in history,” notes Jim Hasty, vp-marketing and business development for Wabash National Corp. “Fortunately, many of the macroeconomic issues that we faced in 2009 have begun to stabilize and economists are expecting slow growth throughout 2010.”
Hasty adds that as fleets begin to see improvements in their utilization, they will begin purchasing trailers to replace their aged equipment. “What this means for the trailer industry is that the beginning of 2010 will remain relatively slow, with demand picking up later in the year as the economy continues to recover,” he says.
Research firm FTR Associates estimates that 89,000 trailers will be built in 2010, a modest increase over the 70,000 or so built in 2009. As a result, while the outlook for trailer sales in 2010 is somewhat better than 2009, that is not saying much, explains Stuart James, vp-sales at Hyundai Translead. “A return to anything approaching a ‘normal’ market volume is still many months away,” he says.
Stuart adds that lifecycle cost is now given almost equal footing with the initial acquisition cost of a trailer, driven in part by concerns with corrosion caused by road salts. “This is leading to efforts to improve corrosion resistance via new coatings, galvanizing and stainless steel,” he says.
That's partly why Craig Bennett, senior vp-sales and marketing for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., expects a 5 to 10% bump in sales volume for dry van trailers in 2010, not only to replace aging equipment but to meet demand for lighter-weight designs.
“Fleets can't postpone new equipment purchases indefinitely,” he explains. “The dry van market is tough right now, but there continues to be a growing need for strong, yet lightweight equipment. This is a direct result of emissions regulations; as tractors continue to get heavier with the addition of emissions control systems, trailers need to become lighter, so the vehicle can haul roughly the same payload.”
The most forward-looking see trailer tare weight reduction as a potentially better solution to current environmental issues than bolt-on devices such as skirts and boat tails, adds Hyundai's James, all of which add weight and cost and lead to compliance and possibly even product liability issues.
“Interest in trailer aerodynamic devices is definitely rising, thanks in part to upcoming regulations from the California Air Resources Board [CARB],” explains Jamie Scarcelli, vp and gm for Wabash's DuraPlate products group. “Based on what we have experienced through the sales of our own DuraPlate AeroSkirt product, the CARB regulations are raising awareness of options for fuel efficiency to fleets across the country.”
In addition, Scarcelli says Wabash is finding that fleets that have experienced the benefits of fuel-saving products, such as side skirts, now typically want all their dry van models so equipped.
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