WHAT a difference a year makes.
When trailer manufacturers gathered together last year at the annual Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association convention, the industry was in freefall. Like a paratrooper jumping in total darkness, no one was really sure when we would hit bottom. And when we finally hit the ground, would we do so with a fully opened parachute?
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that we were nearing the bottom of this historic drop when TTMA convened last year. And, yes, the chute opened. We survived.
Now it's time for another ride to the top, and it appears that the industry is beginning to do just that.
In the year that has passed since the 2009 TTMA convention, trailer manufacturers have seen order cancellation rates drop, new orders increase, and production rates rise. Not surprisingly, the mood among attendees at the 2010 convention was substantially different from a year ago. So was attendance. This year's convention drew roughly 30% more attendees than the 2009 meeting attracted. While not enough to match record highs of previous conventions, the trend was certainly good. Kind of like what's happening with trailer production.
Presentations at the convention reflected that newly kindled optimism. For example, business was so bad last year that TTMA cancelled its traditional new product presentations by associate members. This time around, trailer suppliers were back, providing manufacturers with four-minute updates on products and services. Some of these innovations are available now, while others will not go into production until months from now.
While it is easy to find optimism among trailer manufacturers, it's difficult to find euphoria. That's because for most in the industry, it has been a lengthy downturn. It took a couple of years for the industry to reach bottom, and most think it will take a couple more before demand returns to levels that trailer manufacturers enjoyed before the crunch came.
“Trailer buyers will re-enter the market slowly,” Global Insight's Ken Kremar said during his TTMA presentation. “At the end of 2010, you will look back and say, ‘We gained ground.’ You'll be mindful of the fact that there's still a ways to go before you can say, ‘Business is good.’”
In his “Economic and Truck Trailer Industry Outlook,” Kremar said complete trailer shipments will be 90,000 to 95,000 this year, 125,000 in 2011, 220,000 in 2012 and 270,000 in 2013. For a detailed report on Kremar's trailer forecast, see Page 25.
Addressing the changes that are happening in the market, Kremar says we are in a transition year as the industry begins to rebound. However, it also promises to be a period of change for TTMA as an association.
For the first time since 1989, the organization will be under guidance of a new president. Dick Bowling retired after a 26-year career with TTMA, including 21 years as president. Jeff Sims, a 10-year veteran as the association's engineering manager, has been named as his replacement.
When asked by Trailer/Body Builders about his goals for the association, he listed these:
Being proactive on known government rulemaking. Regulations can have a profound effect on the trailer industry. The association plans to increase its efforts to communicate with key regulators early in the process. Responding to regulations — even advance notices of proposed rulemaking — is not nearly as effective as being involved before the ANPRM is written.
Quicker communication. TTMA plans to leverage the latest technology to keep members informed. Such efforts will be visible soon, with a redesigned TTMA website expected in the very near future.
An interactive website- based member directory.
Recruitment of new members based on value-added benefits of being a TTMA member.
Greater global outreach. Look for continued and growing relationships with other industry associations, groups and foreign governments--particularly Canada and Mexico.
The truck trailer manufacturing industry and its industry trade association are changing. If current trends continue throughout this year, the subject of conversation at the 2010 convention may well be the shortage of components and the inability to hire enough qualified people to keep up with demand.
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