Car Mate seeing upswing in business as specialized markets perk up

Ready for some upbeat news in the trailer market? How about a 60% boost in sales last month?

Granted, the jump in sales that Car Mate experienced in December is compared to the soft results from December 2008, but it's welcome news in an industry that has struggled in recent years.

The Leeper, Pennsylvania, company produces trailers up to 53 feet long, but its specialty is smaller gooseneck and bumper hitch trailers. And while the bulk of the production is relatively standard van and utility trailers, the company continues to find new applications for what otherwise could be basic boxes.

“We are optimistic,” says Rick Rathfon, director of sales. “Sales were especially strong in December compared to 2008. Phone traffic has been good as we start the new year, and we are working on some bids for multiple units. Beyond that, we expect to have a good spring. A lot of our customers are landscapers who plow snow in the winter. With all the snow that the Northeast has been having, they will be in good financial shape to buy new equipment.”

Car Mate offers a wide range of trailers rated under 26,000 pounds GVW, including a variety of cargo vans and enclosed car haulers, along with motorcycle transporters, and utility trailers. But it has been the company's ability to find extra applications for its trailers that has helped Car Mate grab extra sales.

Much of the interest in recent years has come from government agencies. Eight years after 9/11, during which federal funds have flowed to state and local governments to help prepare them for catastrophes, emergency response trailers continue to be a growing part of Car Mate's business.

Here are some recent examples:

One of Car Mate's standard lines is the Super Duty cargo van, a 102-inch-wide van trailer available in lengths ranging from 16 feet to 34 feet. The company recently adapted its 28-ft-long Super Duty cargo van trailer for use as a mobile hospital. The Pennsylvania Department of Health bought 20 units to be deployed around the state. Designed to treat mass casualties, the trailer required Car Mate to revise the sidewalls to accommodate lengthy, upwardly acting doors that double as awnings. Other features include air-conditioning and baseboard heating systems, lockable cabinets to keep pharmaceuticals secure, and internal and external lighting systems.

The trailer is designed to transport 55 hospital cots along with other medical supplies.

“It can quickly bring key medical supplies and help get a high school gym or other building set up quickly as an emergency hospital if a natural disaster occurs. It also can be used in instances of potential civil unrest,” Rathfon says. “Several of these units were deployed to Pittsburgh when the G-20 summit was held in September.”

Mass casualty trailers do not necessarily have to come in large packages. Car Mate has adapted its Advantage V-nose bumper hitch trailers for medical applications as well. Built as small as five-feet wide and 10 feet long, the advantage of the Advantage is that it is small enough to be airlifted by helicopter in the event the mass casualty is in a remote location. Car Mate has built several of them and has orders pending for more.

“There are so many applications for medical trailers and hazmat units,” Rathfon says. “Last week a tank trailer carrying 4,200 gallons of hydrofluoric acid broke in half. Cars that drove through the spill were disabled almost immediately because the acid ate the tires. Interstate 80 was closed for seven hours.”

Car Mate also has had success modifying its products for use as display trailers. A recent order for 20-ft Super Duty cargo trailers featured a 16'6" access door that opened the side of the trailer to exhibit traffic. A frame of 1 × 3 aluminum tubing kept the door rigid. No additional structure was necessary because the trailer uses a steel frame for support. Other than the special side door (and the double gas props that were required to lift the door into an awning position, modifications to the company's standard design were minimal.

“We have a lot going on,” Rathfon says. “We were down in 2009, but we are looking forward to a better 2010.”

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