Production increased in 2002 for half of largest truck trailer manufacturers

Feb. 1, 2003
THE largest three trailer manufacturers built more than half of the truck trailers produced in the United States in 2002, according to a survey of trailer

THE largest three trailer manufacturers built more than half of the truck trailers produced in the United States in 2002, according to a survey of trailer manufacturers conducted by Trailer/Body Builders in January and early February.

It was almost the same story as the prior year. However, the top three's share of market was up slightly to 51.2% from 2001 when the same three companies captured 48% of a slightly larger market.

The total trailer build in the US was 138,180 in 2002, down 5% from 145,380 in 2001, according to figures released by Economic Planning Associates Inc (EPA Inc) of Smithtown, New York. The EPA Inc figures are for US plants only. That makes it difficult to compare EPA Inc totals with total figures in the accompanying table, which represents the leading trailer manufacturers in North America.

The top 10 manufacturers in North America include two Canadian companies (Manac and Trailmobile Canada) and Hyundai Translead with its plant in Mexico. Also, the Dorsey Trailer Company (ranked number 12) includes Fruehauf de Mexico, where 62% of its trailers are produced.

Half of the trailer manufacturers listed here increased production in 2002 over 2001, and half produced less than in 2001. More telling is the fact that, whether production was up or down, it tended to change little from the year before. About one third of the manufacturers came within 100 units of matching their 2001 output.

This Trailer/Body Builders annual survey is made by telephoning a member of the management team at each trailer manufacturing company. It is built on the voluntary contribution of trailer production information at each company. An estimate is made for the two companies that chose not to participate. This survey is entirely the work of Trailer/Body Builders and should not be confused with any other survey. Here are the results:

Wabash National built more than 27,000 van trailers and reefers in 2002, or 4,500 fewer than in 2001. This is down 14% from 2001, which was down 52% from the record year of 2000. The 27,149 total complete trailers includes 24,157 dry vans and 2,992 reefers.

However, Wabash built five times as many intermodal units in 2002. If half the intermodal units (figuring one container and one chassis equals one complete trailer) are added to the production of complete trailers, then Wabash built almost as many trailers in 2002 as in 2001.

“We're cautiously optimistic 2003 will prove to be a good year for Wabash as well as the industry as a whole,” said Bill Gruebel, chief executive officer of Wabash National. “Our business will improve as we place more focus on our branch operations to better serve our customers. At the same time, the issues related to used trailer inventories are behind us.

“We expect that the trend we have seen in the industry moving to innovative new products, such as our DuraPlate trailer, will continue at a strong pace. In 2003, we will continue to sharpen our focus on delivering products that cater to the needs of the smaller to midsize fleets,” said Gruebel.

Great Dane Limited Partnership didn't have to close any of its trailer plants during the recession, even though production fell 54% in 2001. Instead, it acquired two new ones — the Danville, Pennsylvania, plant of Strick Corp and the Jonesboro, Arkansas, plant of Trailmobile. Great Dane also acquired Strick's Abbeville, South Carolina, plant and Trailmobile's Charleston, Illinois, plant — both of which remain closed.

Great Dane now has nine operating trailer plants: Savannah, Georgia; Brazil and Terre Haute, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Wayne, Nebraska; Kewanee, Illinois; Greenville, Mississippi; and the two newly acquired ones.

Utility Trailer Manufacturing increased output of trailers by 8% in 2002, and also recorded increased production in each of its product lines. Refrigerated trailers were up 7% to 9,575 units. Dry vans were up 1% to 6,243, and flatbeds were up 40% to 1,756 units. Total trailers produced number 17,574.

Utility remains the largest manufacturer of reefer trailers in the world, and it operates two of the largest reefer trailer manufacturing plants in the world. The newest, at Clearfield, Utah, has 500,000 square feet under roof, and the greatly enlarged Marion, Virginia, plant has almost as much — 480,000 square feet.

Utility's newest dry freight van plant in Glade Springs, Virginia, started producing at the end of 2001 and gradually ramped up production during 2002. Its Paragould, Arkansas, plant also produces dry van trailers, and the Enterprise, Alabama, plant builds flatbeds, Tautliner curtainsiders, and Conestogas.

“The new year is starting out well,” says Craig Bennett, senior vice-president of sales and marketing. “We are optimistic that the market for dry freight vans and reefers will be up 10% to 15% in the current year, and we're hopeful that the depressed platform market will see a modest rebound.”

Stoughton Trailers increased production of truck trailers 65% last year, topping the 10,000 mark. Even so, its trailer production is still only two-thirds of what it was in the year 2000.

Don Wahlin, CEO of Stoughton, has high hopes for 2003, particularly since the introduction of Stoughton's new Z-Plate trailer. The composite plate for the sidewall is a sandwich of high tensile steel skins with a core of polyethylene and cellulose. The plate thickness is less than a quarter inch.

Manac increased its shipments of truck trailers 18% in 2002, shipping 6,900 vans, flats, dumps, transfer trailers, and forestry equipment. This does not include any production from the former CPS Trailer Company of Oran, Missouri, that Manac acquired in August. CPS will continue to build its same line of bottom dumps, end dumps, grain trailers, and live-floor trailers, operating under the name of Manac Trailer USA.

Manac's Canadian plants in Orangeville, Ontario, and St Georges, Quebec, not only increased production in 2002, but also increased the proportion of trailers sold in the United States. Manac has distribution in the North and East from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast.

Manac is planning for a much bigger year in 2003. “We think it will be our biggest year ever,” says Charles Dutil, president. Previously, Manac's biggest year was 1999, when it shipped 8,200 trailers.

Strick Corporation increased production about 120% at its Monroe, Indiana, plant, building about the same number of trailers as the company did in 2001, when three other plants were involved. The 5,500 total trailers in 2001 included 11 months of production from Danville, Pennsylvania, and five months from Abbeville, South Carolina. Both of those plants were sold to Great Dane Trailers in 2002. The 2001 total also included 500 trailers produced in Juarez, Mexico, a plant that is now shut down.

The first half of 2002 was slow, but much improved in the second half. Denny Williams, president, says he expects a further increase in 2003, but the Monroe plant will soon reach full capacity.

Container chassis production was off about 10% at Strick's plant in Berwick, Pennsylvania. The 4,500 built at Berwick included 64% remanufactured and 36% new Cheetah chassis, and it also included a few flatbeds, says Murray Zwickel.

Hyundai Translead was down 12% in van trailers, down 63% in aluminum domestic containers, and down 63% in container chassis. But reefer production was up 33%. Production at its plant in Tijuana, Mexico, included 4,763 van trailers, of which 129 were refrigerated. Aluminum domestic container production was 1,342, of which 512 were refrigerated. This makes a total of 641 reefers in 2002, up 33% from 2001. Container chassis production was 5,195.

Trailmobile Canada Ltd built 4,664 van trailers in its Mississauga (Toronto area) plant in 2002, a 63% increase over the previous year. Trailmobile reconfigured the plant layout during the year and gradually ramped up to 28 van trailers a day without enlarging the building.

About 70% of this production was sold through Trailmobile's branches and dealers in the United States, and 30% in Canada.

Tom Wiseman, president of Trailmobile Canada, says he sees some hesitancy in the market after a soft Christmas season and recent diesel fuel price increases. Manufacturing hasn't come back as strong as predicted, but there is still a pent-up demand for new equipment.

Trailmobile Canada expects to remain at the 28-a-day production rate until demand improves. Wiseman expects to build 7,000 or more van trailers in 2003.

Transcraft Corporation had a very busy year, increasing its share to about 28% of the market for flatbeds and dropbeds. It built 3,703 trailers, of which 2,525 were platforms and 1,178 were drop-frames. This is an increase of 23% over its 2001 numbers.

However, margins have slipped. David de Poincy, president, describes fleet orders as being as competitive as they ever have been. Transcraft did have two price increases last fall after steel prices went up.

Transcraft is optimistic about 2003, planning for an increase to about 5,000 units. Most of the increase is expected in the third and fourth quarters.

Fontaine Trailer Company's commercial platform sales were down in 2002, but the final figures were helped a little by Fontaine's purchase of Ravens Metal Products. Fontaine Trailer's total production was 3,050, including Ravens platforms and dump trailers. It also includes the steel dump trailers manufactured in Knox, Indiana, a plant that Fontaine closed at the end of 2002. These production figures do not include Fontaine Specialized, which carries a separate listing.

One bright spot is the curtainsider that Fontaine introduced in 2002. It has been doing very well in its niche as another part of the overall platform market. Fontaine expects to see a 10% increase in the platform market in 2003, and most of that will come in the second half.

Trail King Industries production was essentially flat in terms of numbers of units. The company shipped 2,078 lowbeds and 603 dump trailers, for a total of 2,681 truck trailers. This is 54 units more than in 2001. Trail King also produced 187 smaller tag trailers with axles under 10,000 lb in 2002.

Although the unit count was almost the same, profitability was somewhat better because of concentration on the higher end of the product line, according to Chuck Noel, vice-president — administration.

Looking ahead, he says the order backlog is stronger than it has been for the past couple of years, and the company is adding more construction equipment dealers that will probably increase volume in 2003. In addition, Trail King is adding a new product line, pneumatic bulk trailers that will be built in its Brookville, Pennsylvania, plant.

Dorsey Trailer Company and Fruehauf de Mexico together produced 2,565 truck trailers in 2002, which is slightly better than the 2001 totals. Of these, 950 dry vans, reefers, and platforms were built in the Elba, Alabama, plant, and 1,615 were from the Fruehauf de Mexico plant northwest of Mexico City.

The sales picture was almost the same, but a few more were exported to Mexico. Of the 2,565 total, 833 were sold in the United States and 1,732 were sold in Mexico. The Fruehauf figures include 340 tank trailers (chemical and fuel tanks and pneumatic bulkers), all built and sold in Mexico.

Chriss Street, president, says the company sells exclusively through dealers. It has 70 dealers in the United States, nine in Canada, and 13 in Mexico. He says Dorsey/Fruehauf will probably sell 4,000 to 4,500 trailers in North America in 2003. To that end, the company has added 220 people in the past 60 days — 170 in the Elba plant and 50 in Mexico.

Heil Trailer International production in the United States was up 14% to 2,200 units. This improvement was mainly due to the strength of the dry bulk market, both large cube and small cube, according to Robert Foster, president.

Other than that, he describes the market for liquid tanks as sluggish. Buyers are reluctant to commit, even though loads are holding up. However, regulations are also increasing, and bankers are still tough to deal with.

International production amounted to 275 in the United Kingdom and Europe, 200 in Asia, and 100 in Argentina for the South American market. An improving market leads Heil to look for production of more than 3,000 units in the US in 2003, and about a 10% increase in its overseas plants.

Lufkin Trailers bounced back with a 33% increase over 2001, doing somewhat better than its year-ago projections. Lufkin built 1,923 complete trailers in 2002, including 1,544 vans (up 66%), 248 flats and drops, and 131 dumps. Lufkin also completed 28 converter dollies for a total of 1,951 units.

Company projections for 2003 are a 38% to 50% increase depending on product line, says Roland McGee, new trailer sales manager. Contributing to the optimism is the company's expanding product line. Lufkin introduced a new bottom dump in September at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Texas. Next month it will bring out a new half-round dump trailer.

Kentucky Manufacturing built 1,879 vans in 2002, only 6% down from 2001. This was a lot better than they had expected in a down year, says Larry Hartog, president.

Because the market for moving vans and specialized trailers was expected to be down in 2002, Kentucky filled out its regular order book with a couple of orders for FedEx and UPS van trailers.

Since the first of the year, quote activity has doubled, says Hartog, and a lot of these inquiries are turning into orders. Therefore, the company remains optimistic about 2003.

Timpte Inc grain trailer production in 2002 was down slightly to 1,650, but margins were “a tad better.” On the retail side, Timpte sales were up 20% through their company-owned branches in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. However, many of the dealers outside these states were in drought areas, and sales suffered.

Ken Allred, president, thinks the year 2003 will be in the same 1,650- to 1,700-unit area for Timpte grain trailers.

Fontaine Specialized of Springville, Alabama, built some 1,400 heavy hauler trailers in 2002, down 18% from the 1,700 built in 2001.

Pitts Trailers had a very good year in 2002, building 1,350 trailers. This 88% increase was due in part to Pitts' entry into the lowboy market and strong growth there, as well as in its established business of loader-delimbing trailers and logging trailers.

Pitts is doubling the size of its lowboy plant to increase production. In addition to forestry trailers, Pitts builds a line of 20-ton to 100-ton lowboy tag, fixed gooseneck, detachable gooseneck, and hydraulic tail trailers.

Polar Tank Trailer increased production slightly in 2002 to some 1,320 trailers. Outside of the milk and sanitary food tanks, Jim Jungels, CEO, sees little optimism for any real growth in 2003. Yet the need is there and growing.

Jungels is concerned with the aging of the tank fleet on the road. The percentage of tank trailers more than 20 years old has grown from 8% of the fleet years ago to 16% of the fleet today.

East Manufacturing Company's shipments of dump trailers, transfer trailers, and platforms was off 8% to 1,200 units in 2002, but the company did introduce some excitement in the market during the year.

East introduced a totally new product to the US market in March — a smooth-side aluminum dump with hollow-core extrusions running vertically. Since April 2002, this new Genesis trailer has captured 50% to 60% of all the dump trailer sales at East and 30% of the refuse trailer sales, says David Tate, president.

Road Systems Inc was off 56% in 2002. “It was a year of survival,” says Lynn Reinbolt, general manager. “But we survived and were profitable.”

In a normal year, Road Systems, a subsidiary of CNF Transportation, remanufactures several thousand van trailers. In 2002, it remanufactured only 1,101 doubles trailers. However, quote activity has picked up, and Reinbolt expects a much improved market in 2003. The company is now taking on outside business and will offer remac or new van trailers, as well as converter dollies.

MAC Trailer Manufacturing had a good year, up slightly to 973 trailers. A couple of new products helped maintain volume. MAC added an aluminum half-round frameless dump trailer in 2001, and now in 2002 a smooth-side dump trailer using hollow-core extruded aluminum panels running lengthwise on the trailer. Mike Conny, president, is optimistic about further growth in 2003.

The MAC plant in Alliance, Ohio, is being enlarged by 40,000 square feet to house the company's service center. This will free up space in the main plant to add an assembly line. The new addition is scheduled to open in June. MAC builds aluminum platforms, aluminum and steel square-end dump bodies, the new half-round aluminum dump, and aluminum transfer trailers.

Brenner Tank LLC in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, reports some 800 tank trailers built in 2002, a 32% increase over 2001. Bruce Wadman, president, says this year's winter activity is normal, but he expects the market to pick up in the spring.

Beall Corp, building a diversified line of tank trailers, bottom dumps, and end dumps, was down slightly to 615 trailers in 2002. In addition, the company built 227 body mounts — truck-mounted tanks to be used in connection with a pull trailer or truck-mounted dump bodies for similar operation. Daniel Jarboe, vice-president of marketing, says both petroleum tanks and pneumatics are up and look good for 2003.

X-L Specialized Trailers Inc, a relatively new manufacturer in Oelwein, Iowa, built 529 trailers in 2002. This is a 25% increase from the 425 built in 2001. All present manufacturing is of lowbeds and heavy-hauler trailers. George Wall, president, says the company will do $16 million in sales this fiscal year, a 40% increase. He is looking for another 25% increase in trailer numbers in 2003.

Clement Industries in Minden, Louisiana, was down about 10%, building 496 trailers. However, the company has a healthy backlog of orders, better than last year at this time. CEO Glen Hicks is optimistic that the market will be much better in 2003. The company builds steel end dump trailers, bottom dumps, side dumps, and roll-off chassis.

HPA Monon Corp, formerly one of the top 10 trailer manufacturers, closed down temporarily in May 2002 and mothballed its plant in Monon, Indiana. In the first four months of 2002, HPA Monon had only a few orders. The company built 273 new trailers and 466 container chassis. It also stretched 103 van trailers and built 89 converter dollies, for a total of 929 units.

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor