Top 3 Manufacturers Build Half Of All Truck Trailers Produced in US

Feb. 1, 2001
IT WAS A DIFFICULT YEAR in 2000, but seven manufacturers managed to ship more truck trailers last year than in 1999. Trailer/Body Builders' annual survey

IT WAS A DIFFICULT YEAR in 2000, but seven manufacturers managed to ship more truck trailers last year than in 1999. Trailer/Body Builders' annual survey of the largest trailer manufacturers shows the other 25 companies had lower production than in 1999. 

The three leading truck trailer manufacturers in the United States built well over half of the trailers produced in the year 2000. And the top six built 70% of the trailers.

The top ten manufacturers in North America built some 221,500 trailers last year. However, comparisons with a total for the North American continent are difficult. These ten manufacturers include the Canadian manufacturer Manac, selling a portion of its trailers in the USA; Mond Industries, another Canadian manufacturer whose production is included with parent Trailmobile Trailer LLC; and Hyundai Precision America where most of the production from the Tijuana, Mexico, plant is shipped to the US.

This report represents 32 major trailer manufacturers in North America having annual production over 1,000 units in either 1999 or 2000. It also includes Road Systems Inc, a company that produces new and remanufactured van trailers. If these remac trailers are removed from the total along with the Canadian and Mexican production, the total production reported here would be about 244,000 truck trailers built by 28 companies.

The Bureau of Census, Department of Commerce is reporting about that same number of trailers (240,000) manufactured last year by all 160-some trailer manufacturers that report these figures to the government. That's why we think the preliminary Census figures are too low. When the annual revision to the Census figures is published later this year, we think the total production of new trailers from US plants will be closer to 270,000 trailers. That would mean the trailer production reported here is about 90% of the US market.

This Trailer/Body Builders annual survey is made by telephoning a member of the management team at each trailer manufacturing company. It depends 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 remains the largest truck trailer manufacturer, a position it has held since 1994. Last year's trailer shipments at Wabash were 66,283, down 5%.

At the end of December 2000, Wabash had a backlog of $650 million, compared to a $1.1 billion backlog that Wabash reported the previous year.

In January, Wabash National announced it will no longer build products for export outside North America, partly in response to the strong dollar and weak Euro. It also announced restructuring of some under-performing retail and distributor organizations and its hardwood flooring facilities.

In October 2000, Wabash increased its retail coverage by acquiring the Breadner Group of Companies headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. The Breadner Group has ten branch locations in six Canadian provinces and is the leading Canadian distributor of new trailers. This brings Wabash National's retail branches to some 50 locations in the US and Canada. Breadner had revenues over $100 million in 1999. Wabash National had net sales of $1.5 billion in 1999.

Great Dane Limited Partnership shipped 11,756 fewer trailers last year, 20% off their 1999 shipments. The biggest hit was in dry freight vans, down about 10,000 or 23%. Refrigerated vans were down about 11% and platforms down 15%. However, Great Dane increased market share in both reefers and flats, according to H T (Skip) Skipper, senior VP sales & marketing of the Great Dane Division.

Great Dane shipped 46,698 total trailers in 2000, of which 33,233 were dry freight vans, 10,840 were refrigerated vans, and 2,625 were platforms.

Like most other manufacturers, the first half of the year continued the torrid pace of 1999 when most van trailer plants were producing at capacity. However, production was significantly slower in the last half and even more so in the fourth quarter.

Great Dane geared down production at all eight plants with no major layoffs. There were a couple of small force reductions in the last half, but most of the downsizing was through attrition. The new year sees production continuing at this lower level.

Late in the year, Great Dane held groundbreaking ceremonies for its ninth trailer plant. It will be built in Quinte West, Ontario, Canada, and will produce dry freight and refrigerated vans for the Canadian market as well as the northeastern states. First production is at least a year away.

Utility Trailer Manufacturing produced 28,780 trailers last year, down 7% from 1999. Over 13,000 of these were refrigerated trailers, maintaining Utility's position as the world's largest manufacturer of reefer trailers. About 45% were dry vans, and the rest were platforms.

Utility Trailer has enhanced its position in both the reefer and dry freight van markets. The second assembly line is now running at its highly automated 500,000-sq-ft refrigerated trailer plant in Clearfield, Utah. And the first trailers came off the line in January at Utility's seventh regional plant, a 250,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility in Glade Springs VA.

Trailmobile Trailer LLC shipped 28,089 trailers last year from its U S and Canadian plants. This is down 9% from 1999. The slowdown started in the second quarter, and production in the last half of the year was at a rate less than half that of the rate in the first quarter.

Trailmobile mothballed its new refrigerated trailer plant in Liberal KS Jan 12, 2000, "for an indefinite period."

About 18% of Trailmobile's van trailer production last year was in reefers, produced in the Liberal plant and in T/M's large plant in Charleston IL. Other Trailmobile plants are in Jonesboro AR and Mississauga, Ontario, Canada (Mond Industries).

Trailmobile has moved corporate offices to Northbrook IL, where a new corporate office building is under construction.

Stoughton Trailers had a very good year in 2000-using up its backlog. The company built 14,600 van trailers and 450 flatbeds, for 15,050 complete trailers. This is almost 400 or 2.5% more than in 1999.

Stoughton also produced 5,200 domestic containers, down 28% from 1999, and 5,800 container chassis, down 12%. Almost all of the containers and chassis had been ordered in 1999.

The company stopped hiring in the middle of the second quarter after the backlog started to shrink in the first quarter. A 60-day notice of a possible layoff was sent to employees the first of November as a "precautionary move" to comply with Wisconsin state law in case a personnel reduction was necessary.

"We haven't laid anybody off," says Don Wahlin, Stoughton CEO. "The Brodhead plant is building 40 van trailers a week on one shift. Evansville is building ISO chassis ordered a year ago, and will be through April. The Stoughton plant has a trailer backlog of about five weeks."

Strick Corporation production was down slightly in 2000, but the figures do not give an accurate picture of today's economy. While van production for the 12 months was 10,500 compared to 11,000 in 1999, actual van trailer production in January 2001 was about half that of a year ago.

Strick's four van trailer plants in Monroe IN, Danville PA, Abbeville SC, and Juarez, Mexico, have all reduced production in different ways. Strick's chassis business was split out into a separate company, Cheetah Chassis Corp with plant and offices in Berwick PA. The chassis business continued through 2000 at about the same pace as 1999.

Strick President Denny Williams says the company began to feel the rate of ordering start to slacken in the second quarter, and production started to drop slightly in the third quarter. He thinks business may get a little better by the end of the first quarter just because business usually picks up in the spring. However, he thinks the business cycle won't start to improve until the start of 2002.

Manac built almost as many trailers in its two Canadian plants as in 1999. Actually, production slowed in the fourth quarter and the company cut back. However, it is calling back workers and is now at an annual rate of 7,500. The company is hoping to build as many trailers in 2001 as the 8,052 it built in 2000.

One factor helping boost production back up is the introduction of two new models - an all-aluminum platform and a "combo-plate" van - a plate van that uses galvanized, prepainted steel instead of aluminum plate, and has extruded aluminum stiffeners about a half-inch thick.

Hyundai Precision America increased van trailer production 9% and container output by 33% last year. Total van trailer production in the Tijuana, Mexico, plant was 6,261. Container chassis output was 20,256. However, Hyundai's aluminum domestic container business was cut about half, totaling 2,417 containers. Of the van trailers and domestic containers, 393 were refrigerated, slightly less than last year. Hyundai also increased output of its U S Army contract CROP (container roll-on platform) by 11% to 3,468 units.

HPA Monon Corp had a great first half, building van trailers at a slightly greater pace than in 1999. But in the second half, production of vans dropped 65% and the company built about a third of the vans it manufactured in the first half. The total for the year was 5,726 van trailers, down 32% from its 1999 production.

Chassis production was a different story. HPA Monon actually increased chassis production as it went through the year. It built 50% more chassis in the fourth quarter than in the first quarter. For the year, its chassis production was up 36% over 1999. With the addition of 382 converter dollies, HPA Monon built almost as many wheeled units as in 1999.

Bill Herndon, president, says HPA Monon is now running at about 50% the rate of a year ago. Company employment is cut about in half, also. The 1,025 employees of a year ago have been reduced to 540 now, after two big lay-offs.

Herndon says the company has picked up some new business stretching piggyback trailers from 45 ft to 48 ft for the railroads. And it will build some 48-ft domestic containers in 2001.

Dorsey Trailers filed for bankruptcy in December, after closing down production November 22. The company had a disastrous last half of the year. Net sales in the first half were about $77 million, down 13% from $89 million in first half of 1999. The first quarter of 2000 was profitable, as was the year 1999. Dorsey reported a profit of $94,000 in the first quarter of 2000 on sales of $45 million.

Production was halted in November after union employees at the company's largest plant in Elba AL rejected a tentative contract that would have cut their pay by about 25%, according to a press release from John L Pugh, CEO. The shutdown also affected company plants in Cartersville GA and Dillon SC, although some operations continued in the new year to complete work in progress.

Road Systems Inc of Searcy AR, wholly owned subsidiary of CNF Transportation, produced 4,058 new-and-remanufactured van trailers last year, almost the same number as in 1999. About 99% of these were short doubles trailers. Lynn Reinbolt, general manager, says the company also turned out 816 new-and-rebuilt converter dollies last year.

Transcraft Corporation produced 4,005 platforms, 22% fewer than in 1999. "We were on plan for the first eight months, even though the order rate started dropping in April," says David de Poincy, general manager. He says the Eagle plant in Mt Sterling KY was particularly hard hit because owner-operators reacted to high diesel prices by giving up and becoming fleet drivers.

Meanwhile, the backlog has grown for fleet-type trailers such as the steel models built in the company's Anna IL plant. Transcraft has added two new models to the Kentucky plant, a composite with steel floor sills and a 53-ft model, to balance production.

The first half of this year will probably be flat, with perhaps some minor increases in the second half, de Poincy believes.

Lufkin Trailers produced 3,779 complete trailers in 2000, off about a third from 1999 production. The total included 3,025 van trailers, 603 platforms and drop-decks, and 151 dump trailers. Including a dozen converter dollies, the unit total was 3,791.

Kentucky Manufacturing Co enjoyed a good year. The dollar volume was about the same as 1999 even though the unit numbers were off about 5%. Kentucky produced 2,604 trailers in 2000, mostly moving vans.

Larry Hartog, Kentucky president, says the order backlog is staying about the same in the moving industry market. The first two quarters look good. Any difficulty will be in the last half of the year. He says the major movers expect to have a good year, too.

East Manufacturing Company shipped 2,120 trailers in calendar year 2000. This is almost 10% more than East shipped in 1999, but that year was interrupted by a 13-week strike. David Tate, CEO of East Mfg, says the market has been especially difficult for the last four months, after starting to turn down in June. He sees a slight upswing now and is hoping for a spring pick-up in sales. Road construction is continuing strong, and that work is already funded. However, he believes it will be tough sledding for the next six to nine months. East manufactures all-aluminum platforms, dumps, and refuse trailers, and composite steel-aluminum platforms.

Cottrell Inc in Gatesville GA had an unprecedented year, increasing production 65%, all within its specialty of auto transporter equipment. The company built some 2,000 auto haulers in 2000, up from 1,200 in 1999. Instead of the usual six trailers per day, it reached a new high point of 10 a day.

One of the reasons was the introduction of a new high-mount model that can carry nine cars. The high-mount transport couples to a standard-height fifthwheel so that owner-operators can participate in auto-hauling, such as from auction houses. The market for stinger-steered trailers with a three-car headramp on the tractor was also good because of the record number of new cars built.

Dave Whiteman, vice-president of sales at Cottrell, does not expect a repeat in 2001. He thinks the company will be back to a regular production rate of 1,200 to 1,400 a year.

Timpte Inc is seeing an improving market in the ag sector that had been severely depressed. The company built 1,680 trailers in 2000, up 2% from 1999. Ken Allred, president, says 2001 will be even better. He is looking for a 10% increase to the 1,850 level. About 99% of the company's production in David City NE is in grain hopper trailers.

Polar Tank Trailer Inc built 1,600 trailers last year, down 14% from 1999. The company had a very good first half, but production dropped in the last half and has not picked up yet. The three Polar plants in Opole MN, Holdingford MN, and Springfield MO build tank trailers and dry bulk trailers.

Ravens Inc was on track for a record-setting year for the first six months, before the market turned ugly. Ravens' all-aluminum platforms and aluminum dump trailers have owner-operator appeal, but the owner-operators had more than fuel problems. Insurance and finance companies were also a problem. The used equipment market is flooded, and fleets are putting off buying for another year.

Ravens shipped 896 all-aluminum flats and drop-decks, and 587 steel and aluminum dump trailers, for a total of 1,483 trailers, down 21% from 1999. Pat Warmington, president of Ravens, says he sees signs of a spring pick-up.

Benson International Inc had a good first quarter, but orders started tapering off in April. Force reductions came in the third quarter, and the company ended the year down 37% from 1999. Total production was 1,348 units in 2000.

Greg Hayes, director of marketing, says quotations are up and construction is strong, so he is hoping for a better year 2001. The company has four plants in Meyersdale PA, Allen KY, Pikeville KY, and Mineral Wells WV. The product line includes dump trailers, logging trailers, moving floor refuse trailers, lowboys, and platforms.

Mac Trailer Manufacturing built 1,260 trailers last year, 50 more than in 1999. The company entered the market for steel end dumps last year, but its biggest market is in aluminum live floor trailers for refuse and aluminum end dumps. It also produces aluminum platforms in its Alliance OH plants.

Brenner Tank Inc built 1,200 tank trailers in 2000, down about 15% from 1999. The company announced the first of January that it will close its Mauston WI plant and consolidate all its manufacturing operations at its Fond du Lac WI plant. Bruce Wadman, general manager, described Fond du Lac as a "state-of-the-art operation with dedicated, highly efficient engineering and manufacturing centers for all three of our market areas: aluminum, stainless steel, and carbon steel."

Brenner claims to be the nation's largest manufacturer of stainless steel tanks. It has a service center in Mauston WI, a service and parts center in Houston TX, and parts centers in Memphis TN and Ashland KY.

Pitts Trailers of Pittsview AL increased production of forestry trailers in 2000. It built 1,150 total trailers, a 17% increase over 1999. The total includes some lowboys, a market Pitts entered to counter the recession in the forestry industry. Lowboys are used to haul large timber-cutting and loading machines.

Kalyn/Siebert Inc built 930 trailers in 2000, which is off 21% from a year ago. Kalyn/Siebert in Gatesville, Texas, built 580 heavy hauler trailers. Kalyn/Siebert Canada Inc increased its production of dump trailers and live floor trailers to 350.

Heil Trailer International purchased the Gatesville operation and its 200,000-sq-ft plant in December. The sale did not include its Canadian affiliate in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.

Beall Corp, the biggest tank trailer manufacturer in the West, shipped 880 trailers last year, down 27% from 1999. This does not count the solo bodies mounted on truck chassis for truck-and-trailer combinations. Beall makes aluminum gasoline transports, aluminum pneumatic dry bulk trailers, stainless steel tanks, and aluminum and steel bottom dump trailers.

Kidron Inc built 850 food distribution trailers in 2000, down from 1,000 the previous year. These are refrigerated trailers from 27 to 48 feet long, many with multi-temperature capability in separate compartments. Refrigerated trailer and truck body production is in two plants located in Kidron OH and Lakeland FL.

Clement Industries in Minden LA built 763 trailers last year, a devastating market in which many owner-operators sold their tractors or did something else. The dump trailer market segment was down 24% nationally in 2000. Clement builds steel end dumps, bottom dumps, side dumps, and roll-off chassis. Glen Hicks, CEO, says there are signs of a little spring buying, but this year may not be any better than last year.

Armor Chassis LLC started production in late 1998 in Ridgeland SC, just north of the Port of Savannah GA. Its chassis production increased slightly to 3,400 units last year, over the 3,200 in 1999. These are ISO chassis for the steamship lines and leasing companies. Armor also built 200 platforms in 2000.

LATE NEWS - American Trailer Industries Inc, parent company of American Trailer Inc of Rockport IN and Fruehauf de Mexico, with a large plant north of Mexico City, produced 2,302 truck trailers last year, up from 2,286 in 1999. About 20% of these were produced in Rockport and 80% in Mexico, of which 13% were shipped to the US. The company makes dump trailers, tanks, vans, reefers, flats, curtainsiders, lowboys, and truck bodies. This production would put them in 19th place among North American trailer manufacturers.

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor