Despite a reasonable start to the year following the record sales levels of 2004, the 2005 forecast for heavy-goods vehicle trailers in the European market is a 5.4% reduction in sales, according to CLEAR, a consulting group working with companies active in automotive markets.
Economic forecasts for GDP, and in particular, investment growth, have weakened again. In addition, the trailer replacement cycle is on a downturn. CLEAR believes it is surprising that the market is performing as robustly as it is. The only support factor is the inclusion of the new East European markets in the EU, which is giving a boost to international transport.
Looking forward, 2007 to 2009 are still forecast to be record years, but with lower growth levels than in either the late 1980s or 1990s.
According to Gary Beecroft, Managing Director of CLEAR, "The biggest problem for trailer manufacturers is their non-existent margins. Price competition is very keen - markets have transformed from being national to international, with German manufacturers in particular exporting aggressively. At the same time costs of commodities such as steel, rubber, etc have rocketed, and it is not possible in the current market to pass theses costs on to the customer."
In the past two years, the No. 3 and 4 players in the market, Kögel of Germany and General Trailer of France, have gone into administration. Kögel was restructured but General Trailer was broken up and sold off piece meal. In the UK, Crane Fruehauf, one of the oldest names in road haulage, went bust and only a small part of the company was saved.
Trailer production is forecast to exceed 200,000 units by 2009. Exports to countries outside of Western Europe are expected to strengthen - especially to the east, helped by the new EU members. CLEAR takes the view that some economic forecasters are overly pessimistic regarding the outlook during the second half of the current decade.