Trailer shipments remain strong in first quarter

Truck trailer shipments are off to a fast start in 2006, based on figures compiled by ACT Research, Columbus IN.

Manufacturers shipped 61,616 complete trailers during the first quarter of 2006, up 3% from the corresponding period of 2005, thanks in large part to a sharp increase in platform trailers.

Flatbed shipments were anything but flat during the first quarter, posting the largest increase among the different types of trailers that ACT Research listed. Manufacturers shipped 7,166 flatbeds during the first three months of 2006, up 18% from the first quarter of 2005.

By contrast, van trailers were relatively unchanged. Manufacturers shipped 42,551 vans during the period, compared with 42,573 in the first quarter of 2005. All other trailers (such as lowbeds, tanks, dumps, and auto transporters) had total shipments of 11,899 units in the first quarter, up 6% from a year earlier.

In addition to the 61,616 complete trailers shipped during the first quarter, manufacturers turned out 8,743 containers, container chassis, and converter dollies, up 45% from the first quarter of 2005. As a result of the sharp rise in this segment, total industry output in the first quarter-70,359 units-was up 7% from the corresponding period of 2005.

The outlook is for continued strong shipments, according to ACT Research.

"With orders for van trailers picking up the past couple of months, trailer demand is hitting on all cylinders," says ACT Research's Kenny Vieth. "In March, orders rose to a seven-plus year high at 37,100 units." Strong orders since last October have boosted the backlog for six consecutive months, Vieth says.

"Backlogs have grown to the point where not only existing build rates are sustainable through the end of the year, but rising build rates are likely," he says. "The strength in orders in March helped to boost expectations for complete trailer production in the U.S. in 2006, which appears to be headed towards 260,000 to 265,000 units." One good reason for the optimism: early filings from large public carriers indicate that strong revenue and earnings gains persisted in the first quarter. Strong trucker profits and resilient economic growth are the two key ingredients for continued health in trailer demand.

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