BECAUSE new cars transported on open car carriers are sometimes damaged by road debris on the trip from the factory to the dealership, more automakers are usi ng enclosed auto transports.
"They're weighing the higher cost of an enclosed auto transport versus the cost of damage from road debris and vandalism," says Jack Syer, president of Trailer Technologies in Walled Lake, Michigan.
The company was founded in 1991 by Syer; Rick Johnson, vice-president; and Emory "Doc" Buttermore. Since 1991, enclosed auto transports have been 65% of Trailer Technologies' business. The remainder are custom-built trailers with middle sections expanded by hydraulic cylinders.
The expandable trailers built by Trailer Technologies are used for everything from new product displays to educational classrooms, Syer says. The company would like to increase display trailers to 50% of production.
Most of the 300 trailers moving through Trailer Technologies' 24,000-sq-ft shop each year begin as special dropframe electronics vans manufactured by Kentucky Manufacturing.
"We start where the factory leaves off by modifying an existing design," Syer says.
Modifying Electronics Vans For Trailer Technologies, Kentucky installs railroad tiedowns, floors tapered from the nose, 1 3Ž8" laminated oak flooring, 12-volt interior lights, and side doors. Permanent stoplights and marker lights are recessed in a 12-ft tailgate lift manufactured by Trailer Technology and installed with a four-ft fold-down extension.
Trailer Technologies installs second-deck loading ramps and hydraulic cylinders recessed within the trailer sidewalls to operate the ramps. The trailer frame needs to be perfectly square so the cylinders work properly. Before shipment to Trailer Technologies, Kentucky makes a final check to ensure the frame is square.
Along with tailgate lifts, Trailer Technologies installs lights and appearance options such as stainless steel skirting and graphics. After trailers are completed, they are painted in a 65-ft spray booth equipped with an air-makeup system.
The fronts of the trailers are framed for aerodynamic devices such as Nose Cones. Ramps in the dropframe vans are tapered up to the kingpin section for loading autos. Each trailer has an air-ride suspension and low-profile 17.5-inch tires.
Reliable Carriers Inc is Trailer Technologies' largest customer. The fleet is based in Canton, Michigan, near many automobile plants in southeastern Michigan. Reliable has over 150 enclosed auto transporters in operation and each year buys an additional 15 to 20 trailers. Automakers are increasing the use of enclosed auto-hauling van trailers to transport new cars.
The trailers are designed to haul six full-size cars or seven midsize cars. One reliable auto transport can haul up to eight small, expensive sports cars such as Porsches, Ferraris, or Dodge Vipers.
Some CART and IRL race teams purchase the converted trailers to transport race cars, Syer says. The trailers are set up differently for each type of racing team.
"NASCAR is different than CART," he says. "The configuration of the race car transports is different for each customer."
Trailers built for racing teams often have front lounges with bathrooms, dressing rooms, and dining areas.
To design the interiors and exterior graphics, Trailer Technologies is working with Larry Shinoda, the automotive engineer who designed the Corvette Sting Ray and Boss Mustang. Other than cars, everything from motor homes to retail boutiques has been designed by Shinoda Design Associates in Livonia, Michigan.
"Building trailers for the racing industry looks like a promising new market segment for Trailer Technologies," Syer says.
For the 1998 racing season, the company is equipping a race car transport and building a hospitality trailer for one high-profile team. A 36-ft section of each sidewall on the 53-ft hospitality trailer will expand seven feet on each side. When expanded, the seven-foot-high sections provide 1,000 square feet of interior space.
Expandable Trailers A 53-ft dropframe expandable trailer built for a public relations company will be used to introduce a new model Ford truck. The new Ford will be inside the trailer, which will visit Ford truck dealers around the United States.
The public relations company needed the 53-ft trailer completed quickly for the introduction of one model in the new lineup of Ford trucks, Johnson says. The trailer was completed in 75 days, within the customer's delivery time frame.
Another company using an expandable trailer for new product introductions is The Trane Company in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Rather than holding dealer seminars, Trane uses its 53-ft trailer with 30-ft expanding sidewalls to show distributors new products, such as heating and cooling units. Trane also uses its expandable trailer as an exhibit in trade shows.
Trailer Technologies built two custom expandable trailers for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). These highly specialized trailers each took six months to complete.
When expanded, the FHWA trailers have a 22-ft by 36-ft room with displays on new vehicle technology including a driving simulator, desks, and seating for presentations and seminars. Around the perimeter of the room are 20 stations with computers for electronic displays. The FHWA takes the trailer to trucking industry conventions and large truck fleets.
"We're very proud of being able to build the FHWA trailers, after winning the bid in competition with other manufacturers of expandable trailers," Syer says. "These trailers display the latest technology, and we built them."
Diverse Trailer Manufacturing Trailer Technologies builds a wide variety of other custom trailers including 48- and 53-ft flatbeds with capacities up to 50 tons, gooseneck trailers, and utility trailers. The company recently built six special test trailers for the General Motors Corporation proving ground in Milford, Michigan.
The ball-hitch utility trailers are used to test the pulling capacity of new vehicles. The trailers have a 14,000-lb GVW. A flip-up Lexan shield provides wind resistance, adding drag to the load.
The company has prospered in part because of its diverse product mix. Trailer Technologies had $3 million in gross sales in 1996, which represented a 55% annual growth rate.
In 1997, the company expects to have 30% growth and gross sales of about $4 million, Syer says. Most of this growth will be from sales of additional auto transport and display trailers to existing customers.
"Our growth is spurred by repeat business," Syer says. "Existing customers have really helped increase our sales."