Tough year for trailers

Feb. 1, 2008
The Year 2007 was a disaster for many truck trailer manufacturers, at least compared to the outstanding production records set the previous year, according

The Year 2007 was a disaster for many truck trailer manufacturers, at least compared to the outstanding production records set the previous year, according to the results of Trailer/Body Builders' annual survey of North America's largest manufacturers.

The number of trailers produced by the 30 leading trailer companies was down 22% in 2007. Most of these Top 30 companies built fewer trailers than in 2006. But seven companies manufactured more units in 2007.

Tank trailer manufacturers set new production records in 2007 as the demand for petroleum products grew. Manufacturers of trailers hauling agricultural products also had a stable year at a high level, as the prices of corn, soybeans, and wheat soared. The largest trailer manufacturers, however, were hit with big reductions in the number of trailers produced. Dry freight vans, which account for almost 80% of all trailers built, were down sharply, followed by platform trailers.

The three largest trailer manufacturers were down in unit count an average of 21%. These three largest companies, who build almost half of the trailers counted in this report of the Top 30, remain the same names as the year before. Beyond that, however, practically every company changed position in the rankings from largest downward.

It is important to realize that this ranking of companies by the number of trailers manufactured does not necessarily reflect the relative success of the companies in terms of revenue realized, for the dollar value can be a different story depending on the complexity of design, type of construction, material and components used, and quality level.

The Top 10 manufacturers combined to build approximately 178,000 trailers, which represents about 83% of the almost 217,000 trailers in this report of the Top 30. Hundreds of other, more specialized, trailer manufacturers are responsible for the rest of the truck trailers manufactured in North America.

This list cannot be compared to other production totals of United States manufacturing plants, for two Canadian plants, Trailmobile Canada and MANAC, and one Mexican plant, Hyundai Translead, are in the Top 10. They are included in this report because a large part of their output is sold in the United States.

This Trailer/Body Builders survey is made by telephoning a member of the management team at each trailer manufacturing company. The survey is built on the voluntary contribution of trailer production information at each company. An estimate is made for the trailer manufacturer that chose not to participate. The survey is the work of Trailer/Body Builders editors and should not be confused with any other survey.

  • Great Dane Limited Partnership built approximately 48,000 truck trailers in 2007. While this was about 20 percent less than Great Dane's 2006 production, it was enough to keep the company in the top spot in unit volume.

  • Wabash National, Lafayette, IN, completed 45,524 trailers in 2007, which is 24% less than the previous year. This total includes 35,317 dry vans, down 26% and 4,348 Transcraft platforms, down 36%. A bright spot was refrigerated trailer production, which was up 5% to 5,859 Wabash reefers. Not counted in the total of complete trailers were 713 converter dollies, about half the number built in 2006.

    Wabash CEO Richard Giromini noted that Wabash National's DuraPlate dry van has changed how long fleets keep their trailers and has greatly lowered their maintenance costs. “With over 300,000 of these trailers now on the road, we have found that more and more carriers are moving toward the composite dry van trailer.”

  • Utility Trailer Manufacturing, City of Industry CA, produced 30,648 truck trailers, down 16% from the 2006 total. The company maintained its position as the largest manufacturer of refrigerated trailers, even though its reefer production slipped 22% to 14,857 trailers. Utility's dry freight van output was down only 9% to 12,512 vans, which resulted in Utility increasing its market share to more than 10% of the nationwide dry van market, according to Craig Bennett, senior VP, sales and marketing. He attributes this growth in the dry van sector to Utility's 4000DX trailer, a sheet-and-post trailer that has the inside dimensions and cube of a composite sidewall trailer but lighter weight. Utility also produced 3,279 platforms and Tautliner curtainside trailers, down 15% from 2006.

    Looking ahead, Bennett said the market may have stabilized somewhat. It was really slow in the late summer and fall months but showed some life in the last two weeks of December and first two weeks of January.

  • Hyundai Translead production of van trailers was off 11% in 2007 at 12,950 trailers. This includes 11,646 dry vans, down 15%, and 1,304 refrigerated trailers, a 75% increase. That was the brightest part of the picture. Domestic container production of 1,346 containers (including 10 refrigerated containers) was down 73%. Container chassis production was down 60% to 4,383. Hyundai also built 743 converter dollies, up 59%.

    Hyundai, with offices in San Diego CA and its trailer factory just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, is one of the few container and chassis manufacturers in North America. It is working to expand trailer production in the face of declining container and chassis production.

  • Stoughton Trailers in Stoughton WI was down 40% in its production of dry freight vans. Stoughton built 11,400 van trailers in 2007. CEO Don Wahlin says the outlook for the year is flat at a very low level. President Ken Wahlin adds that their customers are saying that freight volumes may not improve until the second half but weren't sure if it would be the second half of 2008 or 2009.

  • Fontaine Trailer Company in Haleyville AL produced 7,221 trailers, down 35% from 2006. This total includes 6,504 platforms, down 32%, and 717 lowbed trailers, down 48%.

  • Vanguard National Trailer Corp of Monon IN built 6,189 van trailers in 2007, down 24% from 2006. Two-thirds of these were sheet-and-post vans, and one-third were of composite sidewall construction. Robert Taylor, director of trailer sales, says the company expects a flat year in 2008, with a potential pickup in the fourth quarter. He says the company forecast is to build 7,500 vans with expectation of 10,000.

  • Trailmobile Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, was down 32% to 5,682 van trailers, marking the first year that this plant was not at capacity since start-up. Tom Wiseman, president, says the company is not at all optimistic for the first half of 2008 but hopes for an improvement in the fourth quarter.

  • MANAC in St Georges, Quebec, reported production totals down 18% to 5,600 units. Charles Dutil, president, says the diversified mix of trailers produced in their two Quebec plants and the bottom dump plant in Missouri helps to soften the impact of the slowdown in any one industry.

  • Heil Trailer International of Chattanooga TN reported the best year in its history, building 4,750 tank and specialized trailers, up 5% from the record year in 2006. Bill Harris, marketing manager, says petroleum and other liquid tank trailers were strong, but the high cube segment of the dry bulk market (cement transports) was soft. In the international market, Heil's Argentina plant also had a record year, as did its plant in Thailand. Kalyn Seibert, Heil's Texas subsidiary building lowbed, drop-deck, and specialized heavy haul trailers, had a good year in support of the oil and gas and energy industries.

  • Trail King Industries of Mitchell SD built 3,774 truck trailers in 2007 plus a number of smaller capacity tag trailers. Dollar volume for the company was up because of the mix of orders and the number of high-value trailers, even though the unit count was down slightly. Heavy haul and open deck trailers were strong, as were dumps and live floor trailers, while pneumatics were down. Trail King increased plant capacity during the year, with the start-up of a new 160,000-sq-ft plant in West Fargo ND.

  • Strick Corporation is completing a number of changes to move the company out of building commodity trailers and into more high value, customized transport equipment to fit the freight hauling needs of individual fleets. Chairman Frank Katz sees the year ahead as possibly significantly worse, and so looks upon it as an opportunity year — an opportunity to make changes. He says the company is investing heavily in its plants, in a transition that started three years ago. For example, the Berwick PA plant that has been building Cheetah container chassis is starting to build platform trailers, lowbeds, and logging equipment. That plant built 2,166 Cheetah container chassis in 2007 (down 63%), plus 100 flatbeds. The Monroe IN Strick van trailer plant built 3,122 trailers, down 39%. Katz says the goal going ahead is to build 3,000 trailers in each plant.

  • Timpte Inc of David City NE sold just over 3,000 bulk hopper trailers in 2007, down less than 3% from 2006. The strong market for agricultural commodities such as corn and soybeans continues for ethanol and plastics production. Ken Allred, president, sees Timpte production staying about the same in the coming year, at least for the first part. The first three of four months are predictable, he says, but beyond that it is difficult to forecast.

  • MAC Trailer Manufacturing in Alliance OH produced 2,643 trailers in 2007, almost 3% more than in 2006. The company brought a new 200,000-sq-ft plant online a year ago to build platform trailers, thus freeing up other areas of the plant for dump trailer and refuse trailer production. Mike Conny, president, says the company expanded into the western states with new distributors, and now has nationwide sales coverage. He is looking for another good year in 2008.

  • Polar Tank Trailer of Holdingford MN increased production 7% in 2007, building 2,502 tank trailers in its complete line of stainless, carbon steel, and aluminum tankers. John Koll, VP sales and marketing, says the market for petroleum and biofuels tanks remains very strong, while small-cube pneumatics used for construction materials are off. He says the company is projecting a 10% growth in 2008.

  • Walker Group Holdings is a new name in trailer manufacturing. It combines four independent operating companies and four brands in the tank truck and tank trailer sector. The combined total of their production was 2,280 tank trailers and about 1,040 tank trucks in 2007. The parent company is Insight Equity of Southlake TX. The four companies are:

    Brenner Tank of Fond du Lac WI increased production of its tank trailers about 14% to the 1,200 level.

    Walker Stainless Steel or Walker Transport of New Lisbon WI built 830 tank trailers and 90 truck-mounted tanks in 2007.

    Progress Tank of Arthur IL built 250 tank trailers and 950 truck tanks in 2007.

    Garsite of Kansas City KS, builder of aircraft refuelers, mounted Progress-made tanks on truck chassis.

  • Doepker Industries Ltd in Annaheim, Saskatchewan, had a very good year, up 11% from 2006 to the 2000 level. Bulk hoppers and agricultural trailers were good, as were dump trailers. Oilfield equipment was okay, but platforms and logging trailers were down with the housing market. Bill Schuler, VP sales and marketing, says 2008 won't be nearly as good, with the unit count dropping to perhaps 1,500.

  • Reitnouer Inc of Reading PA has increased production about 50% each year for the past two years and had doubled its output the previous year. In 2007 the company gave up most of that gain. Production of its all-aluminum platforms and drop-decks was off 47% to the 1,985 level. Bud Reitnouer says the only bright spot was Canada, where his sales were off only 10%.

  • Pitts Enterprises of Pittsview AL now combines three divisions: Pitts Trailers building forestry trailers, Dorsey Trailers in Elba AL, and DynaWeld building lowbeds in Columbus GA. The Dorsey plant was purchased in June and started up again in the fall under David Dorsey as general manager. Jeffrey Pitts, president, says the rebuilt Dorsey Trailer network of dealers will contribute to growth in future years. Meanwhile, the housing and construction downturn hurt sales in 2007. Pitts Enterprises turned out 1,823 trailers in 2007, down 6% from 2006.

  • Road Systems in Searcy AR produced 1,000 remanufactured van trailers and 735 new vans, a 6l% drop in production from 2006. About half of these were short doubles trailers and half were 48 to 53 ft. The company also remanufactured 200 converter dollies.

  • East Manufacturing Corp of Randolph OH produced 1,625 all-aluminum platforms, dump, and transfer trailers, a 41% decline from 2006. East also built 114 dump bodies for mounting on truck chassis. After such a difficult, disappointing year, David Tate, president, says 2008 is starting off on a positive note, but this may just be the seasonal pattern.

  • Beall Corporation, Portland OR, increased its trailer production by 27%, producing 1,543 tank trailers, dump trailers, and bottom dumps. It also built 277 truck tanks and dump bodies for mounting on truck chassis. Part of the increase was made possible by purchase of another company, Marquez in Sunnyside WA, and shifting its aluminum bottom dump production there.

  • Lufkin Trailers of Lufkin TX announced January 14, 2008, that it intended to close all trailer facilities after completing contractual obligations and existing inventories. Lufkin had shut down its van trailer production a year ago. The company produced 1,539 dump trailers and flatbeds in 2007.

  • Kentucky Manufacturing in Louisville KY reported production of 1,515 trailers in 2007, down 29% from the previous year. Larry Roy, CFO, said that the company's specialization on moving vans has made it too susceptible to swings in the housing market. Therefore, it has diversified with the purchase of a company in Walled Lake MI that specializes in expandable vans built on drop-frame trailers for use as mobile command centers. Hydraulic cylinders can push walls outboard to double the floor space to as much as 1,000 sq ft. Another model uses hydraulically powered ramps to stow as many as eight automobiles inside for transport.

  • Talbert Manufacturing of Rensselaer IN increased production of lowbed trailers 12% in 2007 to 1,415 trailers. This includes 867 commercial lowbeds, up 6%, and 548 military units, up 23%. Steve Kingman, executive VP, says their goal is to have a 50-50 break between commercial and military production, but this is not always possible.

  • Kidron, headquartered in Kidron OH, boosted production of its refrigerated distribution trailers another 10% in 2007, according to John Sommer, executive VP. The company now has “nationwide” production facilities with plants in Montgomery PA and Tulare CA in addition to the original plants in Lakeland FL and Kidron OH. All these plants also build Kidron referigerated truck bodies.

  • X-L Specialized Trailers of Oelwein and Manchester IA enjoyed a 19% increase in production, building 1,123 truck trailers in 2007. The company's new plant in Manchester, about 36 miles from Oelwein, added 60,000 sq ft of manufacturing space plus 27,000 sq ft of paint facilities and finishing area. Merle Wall, sales manager, says that the company's line of lowbed trailers remains strong, plus new growth is coming from the wind generation industry for extendible trailers used to transport the very long “wings” or blades. He says Iowa wind farms rank third in the nation in wind generation of electricity.

    Western Trailer in Boise ID enjoyed increased volume in its bulk agricultural commodity trailers such as grain hoppers and V-bottom belt conveyor trailers. However, it could not make up for the declines in platforms, producing both center-frame and perimeter-frame flatbeds. Western also builds moving floor chip trailers and tipper transfer and dump trailers. While the dollar volume was up, the unit count was down 11% to 1,016 trailers in 2007.

  • Tremcar Inc, the Canadian manufacturer of a variety of petroleum, chemical, and bulk trailers, had a strong year in 2007.

    The company, based in St-Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec, completed its first full year of operation following the acquisition of Hutchinson Industries, a Toronto-based manufacturer of tanks. Tremcar made Hutchinson a subsidiary in July 2006 and continues to use the Hutchinson brand.

    New production from Hutchinson helped Tremcar achieve record output of 914 trailers in 2007. Also working in the company's favor last year was the fact that much of its product line is designed for the petroleum industry, a particularly strong market for trailers in 2007. Demand for cement trailers, however, dropped significantly as construction declined.

    Daniel Tremblay, president, is bracing his company for a 20% decline in production in 2008, but Tremcar currently is producing trailers at the same rate as last year.

    “We are getting mixed information from the U S,” he says. “But we will go at full speed at least for the first four months of this year. Crude oil is still strong, and there is a good demand for natural gas. There is a lot of drilling going on in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and parts of British Columbia. It is a busy market.”

  • Benson International, now headquartered in Cadiz KY, doubled its production in 2006, but lost all of the gain and then some in 2007. It built 860 truck trailers (platforms and dump trailers), down 55%, plus 202 truck bodies mounted on truck chassis.

  • Travis Trailer Company in Houston TX reported a 10% drop, building 821 end dump, bottom dump and transfer trailers.

  • Clement Industries in Minden LA was off 11% in its production of end dump and bottom dump trailers, and heavy-duty demolition and scrap-hauling trailers. The final tally was 778 trailers for 2007.

  • Doonan Specialized Trailer in Great Bend KS, now under owners and co-managers Mike Gordy and Elgen Reynolds, set an all-time record for their company specializing in customized options for an extensive line of drop-decks and platform trailers, oilfield trailers, and double-drop glass trailers. They managed a 45% increase to 713 trailers, and think they can hold this gain in 2008.

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor