Final Score: 233,483 Trailers in 1997

LAST YEAR was not a gold-medal year for U S trailer manufacturers, but it was good enough for the bronze.

The industry had its third-best year in history in 1997, according to final figures compiled by the U S Census Bureau. Manufacturers shipped 233,483 complete trailers last year. Had manufacturing plants been able to squeeze out another 805 in 1997, it would have been the second-best year on record. Output in 1994 was 234,287 complete trailers. The best year for trailer manufacturers remains 1995 when the industry shipped 279,144 complete trailers.

Although trailer shipments in 1997 exceeded every year but two, last year's output was simply average for the past four years. Since 1994, manufacturers have shipped an average of more than 237,000 trailers per year. During that four-year period, the industry shipped almost one million trailers.

Compared with the previous year, 1997 was up 15%. With the exception of tank trailers, major trailer categories all posted increases.

Among vans, it was a strong year for insulated vans (up 29%), livestock vans (up 336%), and open-tops (up 83%). Unlike recent years, dry-freight vans contributed little to the increase. The 112,259 dry-freight vans shipped last years were only 3% more than their 1996 output.

Platforms were up sharply. The industry turned out 24,566 platform trailers last year, up 35% from 1996. Lowbeds, however, posted only a 6% gain with shipments of 12,694 units.

Dump trailers outperformed the industry 15% average. The market absorbed 12,638 new dump trailers last year, up 22% from 1996 shipments.

Building Momentum Trailer shipments built up momentum as 1997 progressed, according to the revised monthly shipments. The lowest monthly total was January, when the industry shipped 17,346 complete trailers.

Following a slight increase in February, manufacturers shipped 19,062 trailers in March. By August they exceeded 20,000. Manufacturers saved their best month for the last, shipping 20,993 complete trailers in December.

Revised Totals The most recent figures represent a major revision from the preliminary figures compiled by the Census Bureau. Adding up the monthly reports indicated that the industry shipped 271,523 complete trailers last year.

As mentioned in the February Trailer/Body Builders, however, these preliminary figures have been running on the high side. The 1996 figures were revised downward 10%, and this year's revision for complete trailers was down 14%.

Dry-freight vans lost the most in the latest report. Census initially counted 175,107 dry-freight trailers during last year, but that estimate dropped to only 112,259 dry freight vans in the final report.

However, other categories were increased significantly from the preliminary estimates. Containers and container chassis doubled, livestock vans almost tripled, and open-top vans were up 84%.

Stable Prices The value of trailer shipments appeared relatively stable, according to the Census report.

The 233,483 complete trailers that were shipped in 1997 were valued at $4.26 billion, according to the report-an average value of $18,254 per trailer. This represents a 4% decline from 1996. The 202,912 complete trailers shipped in 1996 were valued at $3.844 billion, an average value of $18,947.

Among major types of trailers, the average value for dry-freight vans was $15,334, down 3% from a year earlier; platforms averaged $15,646, also down 3%; lowbeds edged up 4% to an average of $23,453 per trailer; and dump trailers gained 1% with an average value of $25,695. Tanks for transporting flammable liquids had the highest average cost- $50,123 per trailer, up 5%.

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