Looking into crystal ball

Industry leaders tackle weighty issues of the future: issues, trends, technological advances, government legislation and pessimism/optimism

The industry has taken a bloody nose from a series of haymakers delivered by The Recession. He's a nasty, relentless, heartless dude who doesn't seem to care how many gashes he opens and how many stitches are required to close them.

Many manufacturers and distributors are saying they've never seen anything like this. While they notice that the purple bruises are slowly fading, they know they face a very challenging future.

We ask some of the industry's leaders to chart that future. What do they see in the next five years in terms of issues, trends, technological advances, government legislation? And are they optimistic or pessimistic? Are we too consumed with negativity now? Or are there legitimate reasons to be concerned about the next five years?

Dick Bowling, TTMA

Issues: “Sometime in 2010, there will be a highway bill — something with enough content that we'll know what direction they'll take. A 97,000-lb GVW has been talked about. We definitely have to watch it, because it they start doing something on size and weight, we have to take a hard look at what they propose.

Trends: “The trend we'd like to see is an increase in trailer production. Next April, Ken Kremar (of Global Insight) is scheduled to make a forecast update at our convention. We'll see what, if anything, he might come up with that says we're on an upswing.”

Technological advances: “On antilock brakes and electronic stability control, is NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and DOT going to put something in to require it on all trailers? The technology definitely is there. It keeps coming up. We've seen recent information that came out about tank trailers and the fact that if they go to the off ramp and don't slow down sufficiently, over it goes. Would PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) and DOT want to see that on every tank trailer? It's readily available. It's not something that would have to be designed and proven.”

Government legislation: “In conjunction with the SmartWay program, CARB (California Air Resources Board) has legislation on SmartWay trailers in the state of California. We're watching that because it has targeted dates for implementation.”

Optimism/pessimism: “With people who are forecasting for our industry, I used to kid that the crystal ball gets very cloudy or very clear, depending on what comes out of each of them. For 2010 into 2011, the forecast people say there will be pent-up demand for trailers, even though a percentage of the fleet is now parked and they don't really need it because they're not moving the freight. Eventually when freight movements come back, they're going to replace existing trailers or even add to fleet. How much of that pent-up demand will we see? That's where the crystal ball gets cloudy, unfortunately.”

Gene Kohler, Kranz Body Company

Issues: “Other than a sluggish economy, which affects us all, there are a couple of disturbing trends that appear to becoming more the norm than the exception. Certain body manufacturers operate under the ‘scorched earth policy,’ pricing units to their own outlets far below industry norms just to land deals — profit be damned — in order to cover a portion of their burden. Also, many utility companies and fleets are turning to outside consultants to control their truck purchases. The down side is that the majority of these consulting groups are good at setting up templates, but know little, if anything, regarding the complexities of custom truck upfitting. Also, the credit stranglehold on our economy is having a negative impact on customers' ability to purchase capital goods. After decades of the ‘buy- it-now mentality on credit,’ many are saving instead of purchasing.”

Trends: “One of the major negative trends in our industry is the life cycles of equipment being extended, thereby lowering replacement purchases.”

Technological advances: “They have made information available immediately to almost anyone with access to the Internet. The down side is that with texting, e-messages, e-meetings, etc, we are losing personal interaction. Most small businesses are based on relationships. This is rapidly eroding.”

Government regulations: “When we look at the government and how they affect our industry, I see very little that provides warm and fuzzies. The stimulus package to date has been a disaster. Regulation departments have new strength and are looking for ways to fill their coffers. This will be at the expense of small businesses. The free- market system as we have known it is rapidly disappearing, with more government control of virtually every aspect of our lives and work environments. Mix this with ineptness and the outlook at present is grim at best.”

Optimism/pessimism: “Negativity is synonymous with news. Until the roots of optimism grow, the trend in our industry appears to be declining to stagnant. Customers need to have confidence that their investments will actually work to their benefit. I love this industry, but its health is fading. We represent a major portion of the infrastructure of our country's economy, and as such I am hopeful that we can instill part of the optimistic infusion our economy needs to once again be healthy and vibrant.”

Jim Carney, NTEA

Issues: “Work truck sales reached a peak in 2006, with plus or minus 600,000 units, depending on the data you use. The market in 2009 will be less than 300,000 units. I am not sure the industry will reach the level of sales attained in 2006 for many years to come. That means competition for market share will remain fierce. That will lead to additional industry consolidation. There are fewer medium-duty chassis manufacturers. That, combined with the significant reduction in light-duty truck dealers, will result in fewer sales partners for NTEA distributor and manufacturer members. Many distributors in rural areas will be most impacted by the elimination of those dealerships.

“The light-duty truck market is going through a couple of changes. Fuel economy will remain a concern. Fleets are figuring out that they might be able to get by with a light-duty vehicle to do some of the jobs they were doing with medium-duty vehicles. On the personal-use side, we see a shift from big-engine pickups and chassis-based trucks to smaller, more fuel-efficient vans. This will not happen overnight, but the market will shift over the next several years. Over time, this shift will impact the mix of products distributors and manufacturers sell — perhaps fewer conventional bodies, but more van interiors and van accessories such as ladder racks.

“Another change in the light-duty market is that the craftsmen that bought spiffed up pickups for work and pleasure are gone. Those same craftsmen loaded their trucks with pickup tool boxes, running boards, winches, and other accessories that drove a lot of sales through the industry. Those buyers will not return until the housing industry picks up, and even then, may shift to a smaller more fuel-efficient van as discussed above. Added to those market issues, you have the concern about financing, which is starting to loosen up, but will remain tight for small business borrowers for some time to come. Many companies in our industry are finding it difficult to get their lines of credit secured and are looking for alternative means of financing. Typically this financing is more expensive than bank loans.”

Trends: “We are probably seeing more change in the work truck industry than we have for 20 or 30 years before now. In addition to the market changes I talked about, we have a tremendous amount of technological change that will shape the industry for years to come and will cause truck equipment manufacturers and distributors to gain new installation and service skills.”

Technological advances: “Many of the technological trends center on alternative fuels. We have seen the development of hybrid trucks, and a greater proliferation of natural gas and propane gas conversions. It is likely, based on the amount of government money that has been allocated to battery research and development, that we will see more development and use of electric trucks. Not all technology is on the engine or drive train. Auxiliary power units that allow the trucks to work on job sites without idling are gaining greater acceptance. Telematics, vehicle electrification, and computerization are having a big impact on trucks and are being widely applied to create efficiencies for fleets and on the job site. The truck is being fully integrated as a work tool with in-dash computers, tool chargers, and much more.”

Government legislation: “Government is very active and will become more so in promoting the use of cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicles. One of the first things the Obama administration did was to procure funding for hybrid and battery technology for trucks. Significant funding was provided through the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) that provided money to retrofit trucks with older diesel engine technology and for other clean diesel projects. Much of it was funded through the Clean Cities Coalition. Congress is considering several hybrid and alternative fuel technology bills that will greatly advance the use of these technologies in trucks.

“The EPA has mandated cleaner diesel engines 2010. The biggest impact on the truck equipment industry is that with the predominant use of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to comply with 2010 emissions regulations, the vehicles will require a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) system that could cause modification of certain styles of bodies. In other words, these systems could cause some temporary but expensive and inconvenient modifications to the vehicles for both customers and upfitters.

“Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities threaten the public health. Under the Clean Air Act, this ‘endangerment finding’ allows the EPA to proceed with the regulator process to further limit vehicle emissions. This action puts additional pressure on Congress to act on regulating GHG emissions. This came after the DOT and EPA last September issued a joint proposal to increase the average fuel economy for cars and light trucks and reduce greenhouse gas emissions back in September. The new standards will cover model year 2012 to model year 2016. They apply to light-duty trucks (pickup trucks and vans up to GVWR up to 8500 lbs) and will set a 30 mpg target for light trucks in 2016. Carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by 21% by 2030.

“These types of legislative and regulatory initiatives demonstrate that the automotive and the work truck industry will be in the government's gun sights to reduce emissions and to improve vehicle efficiencies in order to achieve better air quality for many years to come. Additionally, NHTSA had become more active in regulating trucks. Anti-rollover regulations, occupant protection systems and other regulations require much more sophisticated safety compliance. The NTEA has been battling to make the upfitters' compliance with these regulations as practical and sensible as possible, but the regulations still require a much higher degree of knowledge and sophistication when upfitting the vehicle.”

Optimism/pessimism: “I would say that it is a mixed bag. There are many reasons to be negative after what we have been through over the last two years. The failure of banks and the resulting downward spiral of credit markets, job losses, bankruptcies, the poor housing market, and depressed consumer sentiment have been the top stories and have contributed to a depressed truck industry. The bright spot is that the worst seems to be behind us, and there is a glimmer of hope for a rebound in truck sales. It will likely not be a big rebound in 2010, and we are still likely to see some credit issues and a weakness in the housing industry that could impede a strong recovery, but nonetheless, we should see some recovery.

“Long term, companies in the work truck industry should be concerned, or at least diligent, in their quest to understand the trends they can expect to face. It will not be an easy future. The industry is changing rapidly and it is going to require that companies understand market conditions, that they know their capabilities, and that they apply them very effectively to meet those market conditions. What should companies be doing to prepare for the future? (1) Secure a supply of chassis. I am not saying you need to stock a big supply of chassis, but you should be establishing relationships with truck dealers or with the OEMs to make sure that you have a supply of trucks when you need them. (2) Get to know your customer. It is critical that you know what their needs are and how those needs are changing. (3) Build your technical expertise. Establish you company as a ‘go to’ source for technical information and knowhow on trucks. (4) Grow your employees' skills. In today's fast-paced world of change, intelligent and service-minded employees will keep you moving in the right direction.”

Craig Bennett, Utility Trailer

Issues: “Escalating raw material costs and tight component supply will continue to raise trailer costs.”

Trends: “We are predicting trailer unit growth in 2010 of 10%, but keep in mind that this is from a very low base in 2009 — in fact, a 35-year low in trailers produced. We are predicting additional trailer manufacturer consolidation, as companies cannot survive the low unit levels, and competitive pricing that is currently prevailing in the industry, and probably will continue to prevail for many months through winter.

“Containers will continue to cut into the trailer manufacturers market, as most containers are made in Asia. The customer must pick his trailer supplier partners carefully to ensure quality products that will be supported by the surviving companies throughout the products' life cycle of 10+ years. Users can no longer afford to be the ‘test center’ for trailer manufacturers without R&D of their own.”

Technological advances: “Technological improvements will slow down due to reduced R&D budgets, but will include safety items like roll stability on trailers, single tires, and wide-track suspension systems for low weight and stability improvement, and corrosion-reduction features. And because tractors are getting heavier again, the need for weight reduction features in trailer design is even more critical than ever. This is challenging in light of America's deteriorating road system that imparts increased stresses into the trailer.”

Government legislation: “Our industry has always been a ‘slow growth’ mature industry driven by freight growth of 2-3% per year. Trailer demand follows freight tonnage demand. 2009 was an abnormal year from a historical standpoint in as much as freight shrunk in tonnage and in dollars in North America. It appears that freight demand has stopped falling now and has probably started growing again, slowly. So 2010 will probably see modest freight growth of several points, but all is dependent on how much additional legislation, both federal and state, will be passed that could demoralize and paralyze buyers and investors and raise operating costs. We have some very non-free-enterprise legislation being passed that will change our opportunities from now on.”

Optimism/pessimism: “In light of the 2009 trailer industry results, no, I don't think (we're too consumed with negativity). The future will be a smaller market than we have all enjoyed the last decade, and probably still complete with cycles and increased government regulation and mandates on both trailer makers and trailer users.”

Bob Fines, TBEI

Issues: “The greatest opportunity we all have is for banks to start loaning again. I don't mean to imply that we need to get back to heady days of over-leverage, but as has always been the case, we have over-reached in the conservative direction. What working man or small business has 50% cash to put down on a new truck or trailer? Yes, first and last month's payment may have been too little, but what we have now has stifled those who would buy. It's unlikely any customer will be active until they have a solid 18 months of work in their backlog.”

Government legislation: “I watch the labor legislation. We treat our employees well, and all we ask is for a fair shake when comes to explaining the benefits and challenges of being engaged with a union. What we have works fine for both parties. Government should quit trying to restack the deck. Our health-care bills are going through the roof. We cover everyone who wants coverage, so that is not the issue. If the government wants to help, they should find a way to help control costs or at least pay for the expanded coverage.”

Optimism/pessimism: “I don't hear a lot of negative. I hear a lot of reality. I was speaking to someone in the industry recently who said, ‘Everyone is waiting for this to return to normal. They need to understand that this is the new normal.’ He was right. Hope is not a strategy for those who will survive. We are the size we need for the market that exists today. When the market grows — not when it comes back — we will make the investments necessary to support our customers.”

Dick Giromini, Wabash National

Trends: “De-globalization. As energy costs have increased during the past few years, and labor costs in emerging countries continue to rise, the advantage for manufacturers to produce products in eastern regions like China has begun to narrow, leading many companies to re-visit the location choices for their manufacturing with some moving back to North American locations, such as Mexico. This trend is likely to continue. As a result, freight loadings would increase. It is estimated that there is a 5X multiple of freight loadings for goods manufactured in North America for US consumption versus those goods fully manufactured outside the US and received at US docks. The return of more manufacturing would be a boon to trailer manufacturers.”

Technological advances: “(1) Miniaturization of electronic products (TVs, radios, ipods, etc) resulting in increased density of loads, leading to decreased demand for dry van trailers; (2) packaging optimization of both goods (milk containers, etc) and the efficiency of the packaging around goods (toys, TVs, etc), contributing to further decreases in demand for dry vans; and (3) increased installation of GPS trailer-tracking technology that has enhanced the ability of fleets to track their trailers allowing for improvements.”

Government legislation: “(1) Investment in railroad infrastructure and efficiency improvement, leading to growth of domestic intermodal container transport, resulting in decreased demand for over-the-road trailer products; (2) a new highway bill being considered that may include provisions for operation of longer/heavier truck/trailer combinations. That would lead to increased demand for new trailer products; and (3) government regulation, such as CARB in California, will continue to drive interest in upfitting trailers with aerodynamic devices, such as the DuraPlate Aeroskirt, low roll-resistant tires, etc, in efforts to extract optimum fuel efficiency from their equipment.”

Optimism/pessimism: “While 2009 has been an extremely challenging year, we remain very optimistic for the future of the trailer industry and Wabash National specifically. Many of the macroeconomic issues that we faced in 2009 are stabilizing, and in many instances improving. As fleets begin to gain confidence that improvements in their utilization are sustainable, they will begin purchasing trailers to replace their aging equipment. This means that the trailer industry will begin to see a ramp-up in demand as we progress through 2010. Demand will accelerate later in the year and will continue into 2011 and 2012.”

Ricky Baker, Big Tex Trailers

Issues: “The continuing economic recession, the very slow prolonged recovery to follow, and a continuing dysfunctional credit market will continue to have a negative effect on all sectors of the trailers industry that serve the recreational, personal, commercial, agricultural, and construction markets of the country.”

Trends: “Big Tex thinks that an ever-increasing share of the trailer retail market will go to full-service trailer dealers. Dealers who are diversified and those who are particularly focused on doing repair work, customizing of trailers, and heavy into the sales of trailer parts and equipment will be the most successful. For that reason, we have invested heavily in providing availability of these products through our TexTrail Trailer Parts division at our plant locations. Because of the negative effects of the earlier mentioned issues, we predict a continuing trend and an increase in the number of failures among trailer manufacturers. With increasing pressure on manufacturers to comply with environmental and labor regulations, as well as transportation safety laws, many companies will no longer have a cost advantage they may currently have by operating outside of compliance. Due to these reasons, as well as the pressures of operating in an increasingly competitive environment during a very slow economic recovery, we think there will also continue to be more consolidation in the industry. Many companies will not have the financial wherewithal to comply and compete and many will seek to join forces with other, larger companies.”

Technological advances: “As in the automotive and truck industry, we feel that there will be more widespread use of LED trailer lighting instead of incandescent. Advances in technology, lower prices, and superior performance will drive this change. In the wake of possible stricter CAFE standards, advances in design and materials are likely to be seen in the construction of trailers to make them lighter in order to achieve relatively higher payloads for possibly less powerful tow vehicles.”

Government legislation: “We feel that this will be a major factor in the trailer industry over the next five years. While there has been steady progress in safety awareness and enforcement of safety laws as they relate to trailers over the last 15 years, there will be much more in the next five. In the past, the awareness has grown out of increased enforcement of existing laws, but the next few years will see an increased amount of scrutiny and legislation related to how the trailers are made. Reasons for this include increased efforts on the part of the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM), along with other organizations such as the National Marine Manufacturer Association and the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association to help their members understand existing transportation safety laws that affect how trailers are made.

“Another major factor is efforts by organizations such as the NATM to promote additional laws and uniformity of laws among states that can have a direct impact on how trailers are made and enable law enforcement agencies to better enforce those laws. For years, NATM has offered a compliance program that includes on-site inspection and consultations by the NATM, but they have been optional up to this point. Big Tex is in full support of the recent decision by the NATM board of directors to move toward mandatory participation in this program as a condition of membership in the organization.

“Big Tex feels strongly that the reputation and credibility of the trailer industry is at stake when it comes to making progress on these issues. One of the anticipated results of the NATM's efforts with federal and state governments will be to set uniform brake standards for trailers across the country, whether they be used for commercial or private use.

“An additional example of how the trailer industry is coming ‘out from under the radar’ is that the light-truck manufacturers have formed a coalition to standardize tow vehicle ratings. In the process of working through this, there is little doubt that the uniformity of trailer ratings will come under scrutiny. Another factor in the accelerated change was the formation and growth of the North American Trailer Dealers Association. In its efforts to keep dealers informed and to promote the best business practices among its members, it has partnered with the NATM to promote trailer safety awareness among its dealer members and to encourage them to sell trailers that are NATM compliant.

“Most federal statutes and regulations (as well as state laws) that establish safety and other operating standards for our industry depend heavily on state and local agencies for enforcement. We hope the industry trade associations will make additional efforts to urge state and local officials to enforce the federal and state laws vigorously and equally across the country. Such uniform enforcement efforts along with the NATM Mandatory Compliance Program will give the industry a more level playing field.”

“We feel that those manufacturers who choose to sacrifice safety in the interest of saving money and unfairly competing with the compliant manufacturers, will do so at their own peril and under the scrutiny of law enforcement and their own dealers. For example, today unscrupulous trailer builders are able to take advantage of the lack of clarity and lack of uniformity in state and federal laws concerning brakes. In doing so, they are building many trailers without brakes or without the required number of brakes to meet the standards that are to come. How will they fare when the unfair cost advantages disappear?

Optimism/pessimism: “Big Tex is very optimistic about the next five years. While there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the economy, we feel that we are making many of the right decisions to not only cope with the present state of affairs but also to thrive in the coming years. Big Tex thinks that its successful efforts in lowering operating costs and the development of new products and lines that replace and outperform older models, will in these economic times not only result in holding prices but in some cases lower them, will be great advantages in continuing to build its dealer base.”

Clint Lancaster, NATM

Issues: “From DOT/NHTSA, I don't see much except FMVSS 108 (the lighting standard). However, as for business issues, there are increases in the CAFE standards for vehicles as well as cap-and-trade costs, which will negatively impact trailer manufacturers. Foreign import threats, as well as the ability for US manufacturers to compete in foreign markets, are global issues.”

Trends: “Lighter vehicles and more safety consciousness. Adhesives for fastening.”

Technological advances: “We are seeing more adhesives rather than welding or fastening. Weight concerns may force technological changes in terms of the types of material used, though I do not see steel trailers being phased out anytime soon. Other than that, maybe improvements in LED lights.”

Government regulations: “CAFE standards will affect a vehicle's towing ability, while cap and trade will raise overhead costs in the plant. These overhead costs will impact suppliers as well, which will increase component pricing for the trailer manufacturer. In addition, the lack of business incentives from an anti-business administration will not help matters and will most likely further compound the problems. We need to continue to be proactive as an industry on safety issues so we aren't burdened with excessive regulations.”

Optimism/pessimism: “I think most trailer manufacturers are generally optimistic but do not expect to reach previous year levels for several more years. I will say, in our culture, trailers are not going anywhere anytime soon. We just may see smaller numbers.”

Gary Potter, EZ Loader Boat Trailers

Issues: “Where will we sell our products in the future? There are no crystal balls, but I do feel that the US economy is recovering and will recover over the next 12 to 18 months, but only in small increments, and only for the companies that have been progressive throughout the downturn.

“There is a change coming, but I don't think it is the same change our president ran his election on a couple years ago. The change will come from the people having to learn how to revitalize this industrial nation and be the world power we think we are or were in the past. We cannot continue to buy without spending on the development of new technology and manufacturing techniques for our own country. If a company has sat back and waited for the recovery, it will be most likely left behind by those that have learned how to work with less and reach for more. Today's leaders may not be tomorrow's leaders, as many have used the government and not their own resources to maintain. Companies that have reached into their souls, continued to reduce costs, and looked for new ways and new innovations to make their products stand out from their competitors will be the winners of tomorrow. World competition will be greater in the future than ever before, and the US will have to continue to resource and develop new technologies that can be passed on.

“Unemployment continues to be our biggest challenge and may be for a long time. Our import and export requirements will be further-reaching than ever before for many companies. We in this country do not have the buyers. The world outside this country is larger, and there are wonderful buyers who need our expertise, if we can reach them.”

Trends: “Better quality products at lower cost, and reaching more customers throughout the world. International sales and learning international law will be very beneficial for the up-and-coming companies in the industry. In the NATM, the member products are normally large in terms of size and, in many cases, ‘same as’ with just a different name and some specific features, but a utility trailer is a utility trailer, and a horse trailer is a horse trailer, and within both groups there is a market for the high end with many features and a low end aimed at economy. But that has been the way of the past; the future will be how to make trailers lighter, better, and more efficiently in order to compete worldwide, and that takes advanced technology, process controls within manufacturing, cost, and inventory management like never before.”

Technological advances: “I see plastics and composites becoming more and more a factor for the future in many applications. Wood and steel will continue to be price-driven, demand-driven products that will need more maintenance from the end user. Composites can be formed and used to enhance the looks of the products and be developed to match the required carrying capacities.

Government legislation: “Doubles tow-away legislation would lower per-unit delivery cost and set our industry on a level playing field with the longer combination vehicles that are already on the road today. Uniform trailer brake requirements would standardize brake usage and performance evenly in all markets and provide safer trailers for everyone.”

Optimism/pessimism: “I am the extreme optimist. I embrace the world economy and look towards what it will take to be a successful partner in that environment. There is much to learn, there is much we have to do to be as advanced as we need to be with technology and understanding world economics. I am not totally ready today, but I am working on it. I will be soon reaching out, resourcing and selling our products worldwide. It will not be easy, but if our vendors take the lead along with us, we will advance not only our company and the members of NATM, but all worldwide products.”

Michael Terry, Cimarron Trailers

Issues: “Availability and cost of credit; wholesale floor planning and retail financing; small-business mandatory health care; excessive governmental reporting; labor; commerce; EPA.”

Trends: “Smaller average trailer models, high-end models more elaborate than ever, and mid-range models shrinking from the marketplace.”

Technological advances: “I see trailers becoming more aerodynamic than ever, consumers being more aware than ever of how easy their trailer tows and handles or how poorly it performs. This will require trailer manufacturers to do more testing and be able to substantiate how and why their trailers perform the way they do. Trailer performance design will become more consumer-driven than ever.”

Optimism/pessimism: “I am optimistic that the overall economy will steadily improve over next two years, maybe not to the 2006 and 2007 levels, but nonetheless a considerable improvement over 2009 that will ultimately be more sustainable into the future. Life is good!”

Mike Skoglund, Carry-On Trailer

Issues: “The US economy. Overall, it affects our wholesalers/dealers and their retailers and our businesses. The problem is to get the needed credit for floor planning and financing for our products. Along with that comes the uncertainty about when the economy will turn around and more importantly when the average consumer will begin to see it, feel it, and trust it.”

Trends: “I see a dangerous threat from overseas and foreign producers that can manufacture cheaper and with little or no restrictions. Although this has gone on for years, now more than ever many products, including a barrage of imported trailers and trailer subassemblies, are in the marketplace that do not meet or exceed FMVSS standards. This trend is further complicated by our country's inability to monitor or enforce compliance, making it an extremely dangerous situation. We see this trend almost daily with reminders of this in everybody's homes and lives: foods, pharmaceuticals, toys, along with tires, wheels, and automobiles. It has now infiltrated the trailer industry and construction with formaldehyde in our plywood products, and most recently, the defective contaminated plaster board that has been integrated into our homes and must be considered a serious health issue.”

Technological advances: “We are beginning to see some advances in better and easier devices that can actuate our trailer axle brake assemblies.”

Government legislation: “I'm sorry to say, I don't believe we will see a lot of legislation coming out of Washington, DC, in the near future that will improve our trailer businesses, at least not until the economy is under control and growing.”

Optimism/pessimism: “Generally, I'm pessimistically optimistic. Yes, I'm consumed with negativity today, and for the past several months, for legitimate reasons. The economy is draining the average consumer with worry. Why? Housing and investments have fallen. Our retirement investments have fallen or disappeared. Our banking industry has made some bad business decisions that have allowed this nation to financially expose ourselves to huge world debt. Consequently, our small businesses are now struggling through slow or no sales, slow or no production and rising unemployment. And I can't even begin to grip the realities of many other issues like immigration, health care, and war upon war. I would really like to smile and say I'm truly optimistic, but I need to see some real change. How can we expect the average consumer to even consider purchasing our products when they have so many overwhelming impending possible scenarios surrounding their lives. It's going to take some time and maybe more than five years.”

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