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Trailer orders continue to fall as tariffs and economy make future uncertain

Orders for 2019 production basically end as most build slots for the year are already filled; industry looks to June as an indication of the future.

U.S. trailer orders continue to fall in the first half of 2019 as backlogs continue to grow for many OEMs, according to two industry research firms that track sales. 

According to preliminary numbers for May, ACT Research reports that new U.S. trailer orders of 15,500 were down 16% month-over-month -- that number falls to 10,500 (down 28% from April) after accounting for order cancelations. FTR reports preliminary trailer orders for May at 11,700 units, the lowest total since July 2016.  

Orders for 2019 production have basically come to a halt, as most build slots for the year are already filled, according to FTR. Trailer builds were hefty for the third straight month and should remain elevated in the short-term; however, production numbers in the second half will likely moderate due to expected slower economic and freight growth. The flatbed segment is already showing signs of weakening due to easing in manufacturing and industrial activity. 

Trailers orders for the past 12 months now total 356,000 units, FTR reported this week. Year-to-date, net orders are 40% below last year, according to the latest issue of ACT Research’s State of the Industry: U.S. Trailer Report. Near-record backlogs have filled 2019 build slots for many OEMs, and there continues to be resistance toward booking orders into next year, resulting in the order volume contraction.

“We’re now running into very difficult year-over-year comparisons, as OEMs are generally unwilling to accept orders for 2020,” said Frank Maly, director of CV transportation analysis and research at ACT. “We hear that some OEMs may open their 2020 orderboards in June; if so, expect better comparisons in the months ahead.”

Maly added that market pressures of strong capacity growth coupled with a slowing economy and tariff uncertainties could make the anticipated order surge less robust than many assume.

“Orders ought to rise in June as OEMs begin taking orders for 2020,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “June orders will be a good indication of how the larger fleets view the freight market for next year. Carriers may be cautious as long as the tariff situation is disrupting freight flows and creating significant business uncertainty.”

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