Trailer Shipments: the Last Round-Up

Aug. 1, 2001
FOR DECADES, the U S Bureau of Census has kept track of the United States trailer manufacturers, publishing monthly and annual reports on the number of

FOR DECADES, the U S Bureau of Census has kept track of the United States trailer manufacturers, publishing monthly and annual reports on the number of trailers shipped.

That survey officially ended in August with the publication of its last annual report — one covering trailer shipments for all of 2000. Earlier this year Census published its final monthly report that included the results for December 2000.

Over the years, the surveys provided valuable insight to those with an interest in how the trailer industry is performing. A series of companies, including Trailer/Body Builders, helped underwrite the Bureau's cost of conducting and publishing the monthly and annual surveys. Most recently, the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association contributed the funds needed to make the survey possible.

Through the years, those in the trailer manufacturing industry sometimes questioned the accuracy of the Census reports. The scrutiny usually focused on specialized lines such as dollies and converter gear. Because only a small number of companies manufacture these products, survey results could vary substantially when one or more of these companies did not report their results to the Census Bureau. But for most of its life, this survey was considered the definitive word on how many truck trailers were produced in a given period — particularly for high-volume trailers and for total industry activity as a whole.

But credibility of the survey suffered what proved to be a fatal blow a few years ago. Although staff changes at the Bureau seemed to be getting the survey back on track in its final year or so, earlier Census mistakes made sponsors question the validity of underwriting a survey that produced unreliable results.

The inaccuracies opened opportunities for private companies such as Economic Planning Associates and Americas Commercial Transportation (ACT) Research Company to provide accurate data and detailed analysis to those interested in tracking the performance of the trailer manufacturing industry.

So how did the industry perform, according to the Bureau's last report? Not as well as the previous year, but a whole lot better than it is right now.

In its report for last year, Census reports that manufacturers shipped 250,752 complete trailers during 2000, slightly more than preliminary estimates derived by totaling the monthly reports. The total is down 17% from the industry's record of 300,463 trailers that Census says were shipped in 1999. But for most in the trailer industry today, that volume of shipments qualifies as “the good old days.” Manufacturers reportedly are shipping less than half that volume today.

We are now in the second year of decline from the record output of 1999. While we don't know precisely how current production compares, here is how last year's shipments match up with 1999:

  • Total van shipments were down 18%. Of those, insulated vans and drop-frame models showed the most stability. Manufacturers shipped 64,206 insulated vans (down 9% from 1999) and 2559 drop-frames (off 5%). Dry-freight vans (104,320 shipped in 2000) were down 19% from a year earlier.

  • Tanks were off 7% in 2000. Census reports 5,767 tanks were shipped during the year. Of those, 2,033 were built for transporting flammable liquids (down 1% from 1999), and 2,764 were designed to haul chemicals and acids.

  • Platforms were off 17% from the 25,737 shipped during 1999.

  • Lowbeds were 10% lower in 2000 than in 1999. Manufacturers shipped 12,233 lowbed trailers last year.

  • Dumps were down 24% from the 12,912 trailers shipped in 1999.

For an analysis of this final Bureau of Census report (including shipment totals for a wide variety of trailers and a comparison with 1999 levels), e-mail us at [email protected].

For the foreseeable future, it appears that private companies will be the exclusive source for research on the trailer manufacturing industry. What you see here may be Census' last round-up of truck trailer shipments. However, a spokesman for the Bureau of Census has said that the bureau would revive the survey if the funding could be restored.

The fact that no one has come forward to subsidize the Census survey in part reflects the tough economic times the trailer industry is going through. “Had you proposed this three years ago, we would have jumped on it,” one company said in response to an offer to sponsor the survey. “But times are a lot different now.”

About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.