TRAILER MANUFACTURERS had their most productive month ever in March, according to preliminary figures published by the US Bureau of Census.
Plants turned out an estimated 29,238 complete trailers for the period, edging out March 1995 as the best month the industry has experienced. Manufacturers shipped 28,957 complete trailers three years ago, the most prolific month recorded until these latest figures were released.
The record may have to be written in pencil, however. Preliminary figures are subject to revision, and a downward adjustment of 1% or more would drop the March 1998 total below that of March 1995. The preliminary estimate for March 1995 was 29,723 complete trailers-766 more than the final figure.
Record or not, there should be little question about the overall strength in trailer shipments. The 29,238 complete trailers shipped in March were a full 9% more than were turned out in February and were up 40% when compared with March 1997. Almost every type of trailer topped year-earlier levels. Vans were up 51% from March 1997-including insulated (up 22%), dropframe (up 160%), and dry freight (up 57%).
Tanks in March were up 40% from the 387 trailers shipped a year earlier. Lowbeds were up 6%, and dump trailers increased 22% from a year earlier. Gains, however, were not universal. Among those trailers declining from March 1997 were platforms, down 7%; bulk commodity trailers, down 1%; and auto transporters, off 62%.
In addition to the 29,238 trailers shipped in March, manufacturers turned out an estimated 1,888 containers and container chassis, up 11% from March 1997, and 246 dollies and converter gear, up 9%.
Through the three months of 1998, the industry shipped an estimated 80,313 complete trailers, up 40% from the first corresponding period last year and 8% ahead of the record pace set during 1995.
Retail truck sales remained strong in March, according to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.
Class 1 trucks (GVW ratings of 6,000 pounds or less) edged up a fraction of one percent compared with both March and the first three months of 1998. Dealers sold 413,019 Class 1 trucks for the month and 1,069,464 year to date.
Class 2 trucks (GVW ratings of 6,001 to 10,000 pounds) were up 12% for the month and 11% for the first three months of 1998. Another 175,250 Class 2 trucks went into service in March-a total of 446,123 for the first quarter of 1998.
Class 3 trucks (GVW ratings of 10,001 to 14,000 pounds) had a 35% sales increase in March, resulting in a 31% gain for the first three months of 1998. Customers bought 7,814 Class 3 trucks in March and 18,712 for the first three months of 1998.
Class 4 trucks (GVW ratings of 14,001 to 16,000 pounds) were the only class to post losses for the month and year to date. The 3,670 Class 4 trucks sold in March were off 31% from a year earlier. Year-to-date sales of 9,230 were down 28% from the first quarter of 1997.
Class 6 trucks (GVW ratings of 19,501 to 26,000 pounds) had the strongest gains in the industry. Dealers sold 3,034 Class 6 trucks during March, up 89% from March 1997. Sales in the first quarter of 1998 totaled 6,458, up 42% from the corresponding period of 1997.
Class 7 trucks (GVW ratings of 26,001 to 33,000 pounds) were relatively unchanged. Customers bought 10,178 Class 7 trucks in March, down 1% from a year earlier. Year-to-date sales were up 3%, with 26,582 new trucks going into service during the first three months of 1998.
Class 8 trucks (GVW ratings above 33,000 pounds) were up 17% in March and 16% for the year. Dealers sold 17,551 Class 8 trucks during the month and 45,112 for the first quarter of 1998.
In other areas:
Intermodal shipments continued to grow, but at a slower pace than recent years, according to figures compiled by the Association of American Railroads. The increase, however, is based totally on growth in container shipments. The 1,018,039 piggyback trailer shipments were down 2% compared with t he first 16 weeks of 1997. However, the 1,627,494 containers shipped during the same 16 weeks were 3.4% more than the total for the first 16 weeks of 1997. Total intermodal shipments were up 1.3% for the period.
Industrial production rose 0.2% in March following revised declines of 0.2% in January and February, according to the Federal Reserve. At 127.7% of its 1992 average, total industrial production in March was 4.3% higher than it was in March 1997. For the first quarter as a whole, industrial production grew 1% at an annual rate.