Strong Shipments In December Almost Provide Record Year

THE RECORD shook but did not fall in 1997. Thanks in part to a flurry of activity during December, trailer manufacturers came close to matching their most prolific year in history, according to preliminary reports published by the U S Bureau of Census.

Manufacturers turned out 26,833 complete trailers during December, the second-most productive month on record. Only the 28,957 trailers shipped in March 1995 topped December's output. That year-end surge was key to getting 1997 shipments into near-record territory. An initial estimate, derived by adding the monthly Census reports for 1997, indicates that the industry turned out 271,523 complete trailers last year. This is within 3% of the record set two years earlier. The industry shipped 279,144 trailers in 1995.

Official totals for 1997 will be published later this year, probably this summer. The final report will vary somewhat from the preliminary total, but the sum of the monthly reports usually is accurate within 5% to 10% of the final figures.

The trend for the year was good-the low point for the year was January, and the best month was December. Of the 12 months in 1997, shipments exceeded prior-month levels nine times. Shipments actually began improving in November 1996. Following a low of 15,738 trailers in November, shipments began a six-month string of consecutive monthly increases. By May, shipments had grown to 23,425, an increase of 49% from the November low.

Following two down months in June and July (shipments of 22,493 and 20,818, respectively), the industry reeled off three more increases before slipping slightly in November. Despite the dip, the 20,818 trailers represent the best July in industry history. The same can be said for each month in the second half of 1997. For any month from July through December, the best results are those produced in 1997.

The industry had a record year in 1995 primarily on the strength of its performance during the first half of the year (shipments of 146,571). Trailer manufacturers virtually matched that performance in the second half of 1997, shipping 146,150 during the last six months of the year. The industry closed out the year by shipping 26,833 complete trailers, up 14% from November and 64% more than December 1996.

Record Truck Sales Trucks were hot commodities in 1997, according to figures compiled by the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. Fueled by continued growth in the consumer market, sales were up 2% for the year. American consumers and the commercial market bought 6,654,680 trucks in 1997-almost three million more than they did five years ago.

Class 1 trucks (GVW ratings of 6,000 pounds or less) edged up 3% last year. Dealers sold 4,513,694 Class 1 truck in 1997, including 383,149 in December.

Class 2 trucks (GVW ratings of 6,001 to 10,000 pounds) were up 1% for the year. However, the 159,137 Class 2 trucks sold in December were up 17% from a year earlier.

Class 3 trucks (GVW ratings of 10,001 to 14,000 pounds) posted a 2% gain for the year with sales of 52,804 units.

Class 4 trucks (GVW ratings of 14,001 to 16,000 pounds) edged down 4% last year. Dealers sold 56,526 Class 4 trucks in 1997, compared with 58,722 the previous year.

Class 6 trucks (GVW ratings of 19,501 to 26,000 pounds) were off 7% for the year, down from sales of 19,403 made in 1996.

Class 7 trucks (GVW ratings of 26,001 to 33,000 pounds), however, were up 10% for the year and 23% for December. The market bought 113,689 Class 7 trucks last year.

Class 8 trucks (GVW ratings above 33,000 pounds) were up 33% in December and 5% for the year. Dealers sold 18,748 Class 8 trucks in December and 178,551 for all of 1997.

In other areas: Intermodal shipments continued to increase with the start of 1998, according to figures compiled by the Association of American Railroads. The increase,however, is based totally on growth in container shipments. The 249,394 piggyback trailer shipments were virtually identical to those of the first four weeks of 1997. However, the 399,252 containers shipped at the beginning of this year were 5.2% more than the total for the first four weeks of 1997.

? Industrial production rose 0.5% in December, with widespread increases among most major market and industry groups, according to the Federal Reserve. At 128.1% of its 1992 average, total industrial production in December was 5.9% higher than it was in December 1996. For the fourth quarter as a whole, industrial production grew 7.4% at an annual rate.

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