Top three manufacturers build half of all truck trailers produced in US

Feb. 1, 2002
The three largest truck trailer manufacturers built half of all the trailers produced in the United States in 2001. It was the same story as the year

The three largest truck trailer manufacturers built half of all the trailers produced in the United States in 2001. It was the same story as the year before. The top three also built well over half of the trailers produced that year. However, the total production of the top three trailer builders in 2000 was about the same as the total trailer build for 2001. 

The Bureau of Census, Department of Commerce, reported about 240,000 truck trailers built in the United States in 2000. Census no longer reports trailer numbers. Private groups have taken over the reporting job, and they estimate the 2001 trailer build at about 140,000 to 145,000. That's a 42% decline for the industry as a whole. For van trailers, the drop was more like 50%.

The table on the facing page shows the trailer production for 30 of the largest trailer manufacturers in North America — those that have built as many as 1,000 truck trailers in a good year. The 139,900 total by these largest manufacturers in North America includes about 17,000 trailers — or 12.2% — that were produced in Canada or Mexico. This includes the Manac and Trailmobile Canada plants in Canada and Hyundai, some Strick, and most of the Dorsey production in Mexico.

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

Wabash National Corporation built less than half as many trailers in 2001 as the prior year, but it is still the largest trailer manufacturer. The 33,197 total units built included 31,682 complete trailers (vans, flats and reefers), 600 containers and 854 container chassis, plus 18 converter dollies, and 43 bogies for RoadRailer bimodal trailers. In terms of complete trailers, the company was down 52% from the 66,283 produced in 2000.

Backlog at Wabash National was about $160 million at year-end, compared to $650 million the year before and $1.1 billion at the end of 1999. The inventory of used trailers was cut in half during the year, to about $52 million at year-end from $110 million the previous year-end.

The company closed the two assembly plants it had acquired in the Fruehauf purchase — in Fort Madison, Iowa, and Scott County, Tennessee. All Wabash manufacturing operations have been pulled back to the Lafayette, Indiana, plants.

Great Dane Limited Partnership produced 21,650 truck trailers in 2001, down 54% from 2000. Some 6,150 of these were refrigerated trailers, a 43% decline from the prior year's production of reefers. Great Dane is the second-largest refrigerated trailer manufacturer in the US.

All eight Great Dane trailer assembly plants remain in production in spite of the downturn. In fact, the company has added two more. The eastern manufacturing facilities of Strick Trailer Corp were sold to Great Dane in December. These plants are in Danville PA and Abbeville SC.

“We're expecting a better year in 2002,” says H T (Skip) Skipper III, senior vice-president sales & marketing at the Great Dane Division. Part of the reason for that optimism is the company now has two new van trailers and has redesigned its three refrigerated vans.

Utility Trailer Manufacturing was down 43% overall. By product line, refrigerated trailers declined only 32%, while dry van production was down 52%, and platforms declined 54%.

Utility Trailer remains the largest manufacturer of refrigerated trailers. The 8,911 reefers it built in 2001 represent 55% of its total production in units, and a far greater percentage in dollar volume.

Because of the slow market for dry vans, Utility Trailer temporarily idled its California plant. At the same time, it continued to ramp up production at its seventh regional plant in Glade Springs VA. Some hiring is continuing at the Glade Springs plant, as well as two other Utility assembly plants.

The trailer market has flattened, says Craig Bennett, senior vice-president of sales and marketing, but it hasn't started to turn up yet. He believes it will be the second half of 2002 before any market upturn is evident.

Stoughton Trailers, Stoughton WI, had a very poor year in 2001, following a very good year in 2000 when van trailer production was up over the prior year. Vans and drop-frame vans dropped 59% to 6,250 in 2001. For the intermodal market, container production was down 52% to the 2,500 level. Stoughton produced less than a third as many container chassis as in the previous year. Its 1,700 chassis were down 71%.

Manac, headquartered in St Georges, Quebec, shipped 5,865 truck trailers, off 27% from 2000. These were mainly vans and flats but also included forestry equipment. Manac has its large volume van plant in Orangeville, Ontario. Manac acquired the Canadian division of Kalyn/Siebert during the year, and so the total includes dumps and transfer trailers as well. Charles Dutil, executive vice-president, says Manac is looking for improved business in 2002.

Strick Corp produced some 5,000 van trailers in its three US plants in Monroe IN, Danville PA, and Abbeville SC, plus another 500 in its Juarez, Mexico, plant. This puts Strick above the industry average, in that its production was down only 48% from the prior year.

In container chassis, Strick really beat the industry average by building 5,000 chassis, down 29% from the 7,000 it built in 2001.

Strick President Denny Williams says the business prospects for the Monroe IN plant look good in the coming year, and they are increasing output. The Danville PA and Abbeville SC plants were sold to Great Dane Limited Partnership in late 2001.

Hyundai Translead beat the industry average by producing complete trailers and aluminum domestic containers at a pace down about 13% or 14% from the year 2000. It built 5,413 van trailers and 2,093 aluminum domestic containers in 2001. Included in those totals are 481 refrigerated vans and containers, which is a 22% increase over the prior year.

Hyundai container chassis production was down 31% to 13,971. It also produced 1,848 CROP (container roll-on platform) units under a continuing US Army contract.

Hyundai Translead has offices in San Diego CA and production facilities across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. Most of its production is designed for and sold in the United States.

Fontaine Trailer Company, Haleyville AL, built some 3,100 trailers, down 48% from the prior year. Standard platforms were the hardest hit, but Fontaine did much better on the drop-frame and telescopic frame platforms and lowbeds, as well as customer-designed transportation equipment.

Transcraft Corporation, specializing in all types of platform trailers, saw its business drop 25% in 2001 to 3,018 complete trailers. “Pricing is the lowest we've ever seen,” says president David dePoincy, but sales are picking up slightly. Backlogs are running six weeks in the Mt Sterling KY plant and four weeks in the Anna IL plant. The number of different models in the platform line was increased to meet the needs of more fleets.

Trailmobile Canada Limited, a public company based in Mississauga, Ontario, built 2,858 van trailers in 2001, down 44% from the prior year. These were sold in the US and Canada. Trailmobile Canada is now ramping up production to serve the entire North American continent from its Toronto area plant, according to Bert Clay, vice-president of sales and marketing.

HPA Monon saw its van trailer production slide 52% to 2,770 units in spite of receiving a large order from Federal Express. Container chassis production was hit even harder, down 71% to 2,168 units. The company also built 100 converter dollies.

Employment at HPA Monon was reduced to a total of 398 in January 2002, down from a high point of 1,180 reached in May 2000. During the lowest production period in November when there were no orders for new trailers, work continued on stretching trailers from 48' to 53' and in modifying postal vans.

Bill Herndon, president of HPA Monon, says that there is a lot of quoting activity at present, and he remains hopeful that new orders will follow.

Trail King Industries shipped 2,627 truck trailers in 2001, down 18% from the year 2000. This includes a full year's production of Red River live-bottom trailers produced in West Fargo ND, a product line that Trail King acquired in October 2000. It also includes the dump trailers built in Brookfield PA. The headquarters plant in Mitchell SD produces construction trailers such as heavy-haul lowbeds, hydraulic-tail platforms, sliding axle tiltbeds, commercial flatbeds, drop-deck platforms, and many custom designs for niche markets. In addition to the 2,627 truck trailers with axles of at least 10,000-lb capacity, Trail King produced some 900 tag trailers with axles of less than 10,000-lb capacity.

Dorsey Trailer Company is the new name for what was reported a year ago as American Trailer Industries Inc of Rockport IN, and included the production of Fruehauf de Mexico. After the purchase of the Dorsey Trailer plant in Elba AL, the American dump trailer production was shifted to the Elba plant. The Rockport plant closed down manufacturing in July and became a parts, service, and repair facility for the new Dorsey. New trailer production started in Elba in November.

The 2,533 new trailers reported for the new Dorsey were largely produced in the Fruehauf de Mexico plant north of Mexico City. Only 166 new trailers were built during the year in Rockport and Elba. The 2,533 new trailers represent a 10% increase over the company's build for the previous year.

Chriss Street, president of Dorsey Trailer Co, expects his business to increase even more in 2002. The Elba plant will build refrigerated trailers for Mexico, as well as vans, flats, dumps, and reefers for the US market. Fruehauf de Mexico will continue to build its full line of trailers for the Mexico market, as well as tank trailers for the US market.

Road Systems Inc of Searcy AR, a wholly owned subsidiary of CNF Transportation, produced 2,485 new and rebuilt van trailers in 2001, most of them doubles trailers. This is a 39% drop from the prior year. Rebuilt converter dollies numbered only 30. General Manager Lynn Reinbolt says his business may see an upswing in the second half of 2002, but not before.

Kentucky Manufacturing Co, Louisville KY, enjoyed a good first half of 2001 as predicted last year, and then business fell off in the second half. Kentucky finished the year building 2,005 trailers, down 23% from the prior year. These were all moving vans or other highly specialized trailers, but did include an order for 250 FedEx transports. The company is now building at about 75% of last year's rate. President Larry Hartog says he expects the company to build about 1,500 trailers in 2002.

Timpte Inc in David City NE shipped 1,698 trailers in 2001, a 1% increase. The company has been producing at about the same level for the past four years. However, that is a very low level, says president Ken Allred. The high point came between 1996 and 1998, when production went above 2,300. The present level is about the same as the early 1990s. Allred expects another increase of about 5% in 2002, as the ag sector continues to improve. About 99% of Timpte production is in grain hopper trailers.

Lufkin Trailers was down 62%. Lufkin built 932 van trailers, 428 platform trailers, and 91 dump trailers, for a total of 1,451 complete trailers, plus two converter dollies. Lufkin is looking for a better year in 2002, which is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parent company. Lufkin Industries started supplying the East Texas timber industry in 1902, and then the booming oilfields. The company started building truck trailers in 1939.

“We're quoting quite a bit, and have van trailer orders now to take us through June,” new trailer sales manager Roland McGee says. “We're hoping the trailer business will improve in the second half of the year.”

East Manufacturing Company produced 1,300 trailers in 2001, a drop of 39% from the prior year. These are in four product lines: all-aluminum platforms, dumps, and refuse trailers, and composite steel-aluminum platforms. CEO David Tate says the company had a very poor fourth quarter, but he believes the downturn is bottoming out. Increased sales and quote activity in January leads him to believe that there will be a spring pick-up and that this trend will gain momentum through the year.

Polar Tank Trailer built about 1,300 tanks, down 19% from the year before. The first six months was actually good and the company remained on schedule, says CEO Jim Jungels. The weakness was all in the last half, and the market has not yet picked up. With three plants operating in Holdingford MN, Opole MN, and Springfield MO, Polar builds the entire range of liquid and dry bulk tankers in steel, stainless steel, and aluminum.

MAC Trailer Manufacturing in Alliance OH built 940 trailers, down 25% from 1,260 the previous year. These were mainly dump trailers and moving floor trailers for the refuse industry. President Mike Conny says he thinks the company will increase its business in 2002 to 1,000-1,200 because of two new trailers: an aluminum flatbed trailer, and a new aluminum half-round frameless dump trailer introduced at midyear.

Pitts Trailers in Pittsview AL built 720 forestry and lowbed trailers in 2001, a 37% drop from the prior year. After a pick-up in sales during the fourth quarter, the company expects to increase its business this year. Part of that optimism is based on the fact that it has an expanded product line, according to president Jeff Pitts. Pitts has added a detachable gooseneck line of lowbeds in the 35-ton and up range. It also added during the past year a line of tag-along trailers with capacities of 20 tons and up, both fixed and tilt deck.

Beall Corp built 645 truck trailers in 2001, down 27%. In addition to these trailers, Beall built several hundred truck tanks to be used in combination with pull trailers. The company is diversified within the overall aluminum tank, bottom dump, and end dump trailer field, resulting in differing results by product line. Petroleum tanks are holding steady. Construction trailers were way down but starting to turn up. Pneumatic tanks were very slow but starting an upswing. Aluminum bottom dumps for coal hauling have been good, according to CEO Jerry Beall. Beall Corp is the largest tank trailer manufacturer in the West, headquartered in Portland OR.

Brenner Tank Inc in Fond du Lac WI built half as many tank trailers in 2001 as in the year 2000. Of the 604 tank trailers Brenner built, 90% were stainless steel, and the others were aluminum or carbon steel.

Kidron Inc built 550 refrigerated trailers in 2001, down 35%. These are mainly distribution trailers, many having separate compartments for multi-temperature operation. Kidron specializes in refrigerated truck body and trailer production in its two plants in Kidron OH and Lakeland FL.

Clement Industries in Minden LA experienced another drop in the dump trailer market, bringing production down to less than half of that two years ago. The high point was the 1,197 trailers Clement produced in 1999. That dropped to 763 in 2000, and in 2001 it dropped another 28% to 550. CEO Glen Hicks thinks the market bottomed out last year and is starting up. He is modestly optimistic that Clement will build as many trailers in 2002 as 2001, and that the trend will continue upward for the next five years. The company builds steel end dumps, bottom dumps, side dumps, and roll-off chassis.

Cottrell Inc in Gatesville GA experienced about the biggest percentage drop of any manufacturer. It normally sells about 1,000 of its specialized auto hauling equipment in any year, but doubled that number in the year 2000. In 2001, the reverse was true. Production did not reach half of a normal year. The 450 produced represents a drop of 77% from the prior year. Both owner-operators and fleets cut back, says vice-president of sales Dave Whiteman. It is too early in the year to see any improvement in the market, he says, but quote activity is increasing.

Armor Chassis LLC built 2,100 container chassis in 2001, down 38%. Two-thirds of these were for 40-ft containers, and the rest for 40- to 45-ft boxes or 23-ft chassis for 20-ft containers. About 25% were remanufactured chassis, using the axle beams from existing equipment. General manager Patrick Gilbert says the plant in Ridgeland SC has a two-month backlog now, and that better than 80% of the work is in remacs — building a new chassis and using rebuilt axles.

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor