Now that Congress has pushed through an economic stimulus of more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars, do you think that will be enough to pump some life into our economy?
Moving a little closer to home, will an influx of additional spending — more than $2,500 for every person in the United States — create demand for more trucks and trailers? Although hope is not a strategy, we certainly hope so.
Most of us are facing the most challenging market in our careers right now. Last year was no picnic, and, we have started this year with retail truck sales off sharply from a year ago. Classes 3-7, the heart of the market for most truck equipment distributors, were down 42% when compared with January 2008, according to Ward's Communications. Class 8 models, used primarily as highway tractors, were off 42% as well in January 2009. While there are still 11 more months to total, we are not off to an auspicious start in 2009.
In compiling our annual report on trailer output (see Page 18), we found similar circumstances for trailer manufacturers. Overall, the 30 largest trailer manufacturers in North America produced 31% fewer trailers last year than they did in 2007.
Of course, we here in North America are not alone when it comes to declines in the truck and trailer market. The market can change quickly — here and overseas. This time last year, our February issue talked about the booming truck and trailer market in Europe. Sales had been especially brisk in Eastern Europe where formerly communist nations have been trying to upgrade infrastructures that deteriorated during decades of totalitarian neglect.
At the recent IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hannover, Germany, (see our coverage beginning on Page 25) strong attendance and booming exhibitor participation masked underlying concerns. The market was slowing, and some manufacturers were expressing concern.
Things have slowed substantially since IAA was held. While The Work Truck Show and the Mid-America Trucking Show will go on as scheduled, the British already have announced the cancelation of this year's Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham — the largest truck and trailer show that had been scheduled since IAA finished up in October.
We are confident that this downturn in demand for trucks and trailers is temporary. But we wonder if we are beginning to see a permanent escalation in what our nation expects from Uncle Sam.
For example, why are we looking to government to help us buy converter boxes for our television sets? Can we really get the economy back on track by encouraging the nation to sit around and watch TV? In a time of governmental largess, why not just use some of that $2,500 per person stimulus package to buy a really nice big screen that doesn't need the converter box? A chicken in every pot, and a plasma in every living room.
Increasingly, we as a nation and individuals are looking to government for help.
When the economy begins to tighten, we need to tighten our grip on the things we can control. As you read our report on trailer manufacturing, go beyond the numbers. Look at what real companies are doing to cope with real problems in real time.
In the absence of a bailout, trailer manufacturers are taking action on their own. They are trying their best to find and mine market segments that are still performing well. They are building high-spec trailers in order to be more profitable when volumes are low. And they are coming up with acceptable ways to keep talented employees on the payroll — employees whom they paid dearly to train and who were in dreadfully short supply just a few months ago.
Yes, it's possible that government may be able to help us with our economic woes. But we still think this is a time for personal responsibility. After all, do we really want to place our faith and our financial future in the hands of a Congress that has an approval rating of 29%?
For most of us, the best we can do is influence Congress — we can't control it. But we can control our own attitudes, our expectations, and our actions. And when we do, we can make a difference.