Trailer manufacturers post 65% gain

Feb. 25, 2011
The 25 leading truck trailer manufacturers increased production dramatically in 2010, boosting output an average of 65% above the recession year of 2009. However, for most, it still wasn’t as productive as 2008, and well below 2007 and 2006 levels. The results of Trailer/Body Builders annual survey of the largest trailer manufacturers in North America show that the top 25 builders (plus three) shipped 121,128 complete truck trailers in 2010. These same manufacturers shipped 78,525 trailers in 2009, representing a 65% increase for 2010. As in 2009, the best performing trailer types were those serving food-related industries, such as refrigerated trailers and ag trailers. The poorest performance was trailers serving construction-related industries, such as platforms and dump trailers

The 25 leading truck trailer manufacturers increased production dramatically in 2010, boosting output an average of 65% above the recession year of 2009. However, for most, it still wasn’t as productive as 2008, and well below 2007 and 2006 levels.

The results of Trailer/Body Builders annual survey of the largest trailer manufacturers in North America show that the top 25 builders (plus three) shipped 121,128 complete truck trailers in 2010. These same manufacturers shipped 78,525 trailers in 2009, representing a 65% increase for 2010.

As in 2009, the best performing trailer types were those serving food-related industries, such as refrigerated trailers and ag trailers. The poorest performance was trailers serving construction-related industries, such as platforms and dump trailers.

Most trailer manufacturers are expressing optimism for the current year, reflecting the momentum that kept growing all through 2010 and is continuing in the first weeks of 2011.

This Trailer/Body Builders survey is made by personally telephoning a member of the management team at each trailer manufacturing company. The ranking of the companies by the number of trailers manufactured or shipped does not necessarily reflect the relative success of the companies in terms of profitability or revenue received. The dollar value of a trailer can vary greatly depending on complexity of design, type of construction, materials used and quality level.

The trailer totals reported here cannot be compared directly with other domestic surveys that do not also include some Canadian and Mexican trailer assembly plants, nor does this survey attempt to cover the many small trailer manufacturing companies located throughout North America.

Wabash National Corporation bounced back from its third-place position in 2009 to take over the top spot as the company producing the most truck trailers in 2010, a position it has not held since 2008.

Wabash took over the lead in 2010 by nearly doubling its 2009 output. Wabash shipped 24,822 complete trailers in 2010, an increase of 94%. These include shipments of 19,878 dry freight vans, an increase of 108%. Refrigerated van shipments were up 113% to 3,859 reefers. Platforms increased 18% to 993, and dump and specialty trailers were up 92% to 92. Not counted in the complete trailer total were shipments of 29 converter dollies.

Also not counted in the shipments were another 2,259 trailers built but not shipped yet. Wabash National reported a total of 27,081 complete trailers built during the year, compared to 24,822 shipped.

The number of new Wabash trailers sold increased each quarter of the year, starting with 2,600 trailers sold in the first quarter of 2010. Nearly four times that number were sold during the fourth quarter, a whopping 10,100 units.

“Operating results for the fourth quarter were our best since 2007,”said Dick Giromini”, president and chief operating officer. “New trailer shipments of 10,100 for the fourth quarter met and slightly exceeded the high end of our guidance, reflecting a healthier demand environment and improved pick-up performance by our customers during the fourth quarter.”

“Full year new trailer shipments of 24,900, combined with our backlog of approximately $480 million as of December 31, 2010, reinforces our belief that the recovery in our industry is well underway, and that we are poised to capitalize on the improvement in demand,” added Giromini.

Utility Trailer Manufacturing in City of Industry, California, built 23,253 truck trailers in 2010, a 41% increase over 2009 production. Well over half of these were refrigerated trailers. The 13,770 refrigerated vans represent an 11% increase over 2009 reefers, and an 8% increase over 2008 Utility refrigerated trailers.

Dry freight van trailer production more than doubled. Utility produced 8,818 dry vans, a 172% increase over 2009. Flatbeds and curtainside vans, however, were down from 870 to 665 in 2010.

Utility Trailer has been hiring back workers all during 2010, and now employment stands at 65% of the maximum during the peak years of production in 2005 and 2006, says Craig Bennett, senior vice-president sales and marketing. Most plants are working two shifts.

As the very active quote level and backlogs increase, trailer manufacturers may face some component shortages if suppliers are not able to increase production fast enough, says Bennett. Tires in particular are mentioned, as well as suspensions and possibly refrigeration units. About 10% of Utility dry vans and refrigerated trailers are equipped with single tires, but the shortage applies to both super singles and standard duals.

Great Dane Limited Partnership built approximately 21,000 truck trailers in 2010. This is 6,000 more than in 2009, or 40% more. These are principally dry freight vans and refrigerated trailers, and also platforms.

Hyundai Translead of San Diego, California, built 7,630 complete truck trailers, an increase of 62% above 2009 production and 17% above 2008 totals. Of these, 6,756 were dry freight van trailers, and 874 were refrigerated vans.

Hyundai also had a big increase in the number of incomplete trailers built. Domestic containers numbered 380, and container chassis totaled 4,598. The company also built 570 converter dollies for double-trailer hook-ups. The factory for all this transport equipment is located in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border south of San Diego.

Quote activity in the first weeks of 2011 continues strong says Brett Bartels, marketing manager, leading the company to set much higher goals for the current year.

Stoughton Trailers LLC in Stoughton, Wisconsin, more than doubled (up 107%) its 2009 production.

“Ordering improved gradually throughout 2010, and now we are seeing that trend continue in 2011, says Don Wahlin, CEO. “Carriers are having to replace ageing equipment after not buying in the last two years”.

Stoughton reopened its Broadhead, Wisconsin, plant in November, and also added a partial second shift at its Stoughton plant.

Vanguard National Trailer Corp in Monon, Indiana, assembled 4,764 trailers, a 178% increase over its 2009 output, and also a 10% increase over 2008. It includes 4,508 dry van trailers and 256 refrigerated trailers. Not counted in the above trailer totals are 107 truck bodies mounted on truck chassis.

Vanguard is experiencing a much improved market in 2011. “Our backlog here in the first weeks of January is already 4,600---more than the number of van trailers we put out in all of 2010.”

Vanguard side panels, roofs, and floors are made in China and shipped to their plant in Monon for assembly. The completed vans are then trailerized with locally produced running gear.

MANAC in St Georges, Quebec, doubled its 2009 production during a solid year of growth. It produced 4,100 trailers from its four plants in Canada and the United States, up 105% over 2009, and about the same level as in 2008. Part of this growth is due to the reintroduction of the Trailmobile Ultraplate van, says Charles Dutil, president. MANAC purchased the rights to build that trailer in 2009 after the bankruptcy of Trailmobile Canada Ltd.

MANAC builds a broad line of trailers ranging from dry vans to logging trailers in its two plants in Quebec. In its two U. S. plants, MANAC builds platform trailers in Kennett, Missouri, and bottom dumps in Oran, Missouri.

Timpte Inc in David City, Nebraska, scored another record year, building 3,770 bulk commodities trailers. This is 33% above its production in 2009, and 5% above its previous all-time record set in 2008.

Almost all Timpte trailers are hopper bottom, self unloading aluminum semi-trailers used for hauling corn, soybeans and other grains. With both corn and soybean prices at the highest level in many years, farmers are continuing to plant more acres. Besides their use in human and animal foods, ethanol production from corn and industrial uses of soybean oil keep demand high.

Dale Jones, president and CEO of Timpte is looking for another strong year in 2011, although ag trailer demand might plateau. So far, commodity prices are stable at a very high level.

Strick Corporation of Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, completed 2,454 truck trailers, a 123% increase over 2009. About two-thirds were specialized dry freight vans built in the Monroe, Indiana plant. These include auto parts vans hauling to automotive plants, heavy-duty trailers reinforced to handle paper rolls and the fork trucks to move them, and carpet vans with reinforced sidewalls to control bulging.

About a fifth of the Strick trailers were specialized container chassis built in the Berwick, Pennsylvania, plant to carry extra-heavy containers or adjustable chassis to handle multiple container sizes. About a sixth were specialized platform and logging trailers built in Strick’s Sumter, South Carolina, plant.

“We entered 2011 with a much stronger backlog than last year,” says Ben Katz, director of sales, “but we are expanding cautiously. We are operating with a single shift in all three plants even though the backlog is growing. We have made some investments in more productive equipment, such as metal shot-blasting and finishing equipment in our Sumter plant. Generally speaking, our bold move over several years from high volume production of standard products to more profitable, specialized products is proving successful.”

Heil Trailer International of Athens, Tennessee, reported 2,350 trailers built globally, including tank trailer plants in Argentina and Thailand, a 2% increase compared to the previous year. It was basically a flat year, says Greg Heyer, Heil vice-president of sales and marketing, although dry bulk pneumatic trailers were up slightly and petroleum tanks were soft.

Walker Group Holdings manufactured 1,744 tank trailers, a 59% increase over 2010, and also 518 non-trailer tanks, such as for mounting on truck chassis. This makes a total of 2,262 transport tanks, a 19% increase over 2009.

The Walker Group includes Brenner Tank LLC of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; Walker Stainless Steel of New Lisbon, Wisconsin; and Bulk Tank International, near San Jose Iturbide in Central Mexico.

Jim Miller, vice-president of sales for Walker Group Holdings, says 2011 is looking good and he expects to continue seeing incremental growth.

Fontaine Trailer Company in Haleyville, Alabama, had lower production in 2010 because of the loss of military contracts. The company built 1,715 platforms and lowbed trailers, down 19% from 2009. The drop in shipments would have been even greater except for the increasing popularity of its new Revolution platform trailer, which accounted for almost 40% of all commercial units built in 2010.

Hank Prochazka, vice-president sales and marketing at Fontaine, says it’s much more than just the lower tare weight of the Revolution, which weighs about 1,000 pounds less than other flatbeds in the same class. The unitized deck has all cross sills internal, so it has a smooth underside. This gives a small advantage in aerodynamic drag, but the biggest difference is in the stiffness it provides against side-to-side bending. That allows the spread axles to track better over road irregularities. When the two axles aren’t fighting each other, they track better with less tire scrubbing. The result is lower fuel cost, less tire wear, and a smoother ride for the cargo and the driver, in addition to the greater cargo capacity.

“New orders are up in 2011,” Prochazka says, “ and the Revolution again is off to a great start in the new year.”

Polar Tank Trailer LLC of Holding-ford, Minnesota, built 1,700 tank trailers, a 43% increase over 2009 production, but still below the 2,200 of 2008. The 43% increase is slightly better than the 30% to 40% increase that the company predicted a year ago.

“Every line of tanks was good compared to 2009,” says Zack Coley, vice-president, sales, “and they are continuing better in 2011. Frac sand trailers and crude oil tankers were especially good in 2010 and are continuing so. Large cube dry bulk trailers were good at Polar. Petroleum tanks picked up a little. Stainless steel tanks were good, but not back to where they should be.

“We think the market will continue to improve in 2011, and will be even better in 2012,” says Coley.

MAC Trailer Manufacturing of Alliance, Ohio, built 1,568 truck trailers, a 73% increase over its 2009 production. Not counted in the trailer total are 25 dump bodies mounted on truck chassis, for a total of 1,593 cargo units.

The biggest growth was in MAC’s new line of pneumatic bulk tankers started two years ago. The company more than doubled its initial year production, building 128 dry bulk tankers in 2010, compared to 56 in 2009. Most of these were for hauling plastic beads and frac sand, says Jim Maiorana, executive vice-president, and 30% were sold into Canada through their four Canadian distributors.

The company just started a new assembly line for the dry bulkers in its Salem OH plant, and is increasing production from one dry bulker a day to two a day. “We hope to build 400 to 500 dry bulk trailers this year”, says Michael A Conny, owner.

Besides the 128 pneumatic trailers, MAC plants built 390 all-aluminum platform trailers, 750 dump trailers plus 25 dump bodies for mounting on truck chassis, and 300 transfer trailers in 2010.

Trail King Industries of Mitchell, South Dakota, built 1,470 truck trailers, a 43% increase over 2009, plus another 177 light trailers that do not qualify for the truck-trailer designation (having at least one axle rated at or above 10,000 lb capacity). That brings the total number of light and heavy trailers manufactured in 2010 at Trail King to 1,647, according to Chuck Noel, vice-president administration.

Trail King is known best as a manufacturer of heavy-duty lowbeds and heavy haulers. In 2010 the company built 1,001 lowbeds, tiltbeds, and hydraulic tail trailers, a 38% increase over 2009, and 448 of these were heavy haulers with trailer capacity over 130,000 lb. Dump and live floor trailer production increased 43% to 374 units, and pneumatic dry bulk trailers were up 164% to 95 units.

Looking ahead, ordering was much improved in October, November, and December, and now backlogs are stretching out—to six months on some products. Trail King closed its Brookville, Pennsylvania plant in late 2009, leaving the company with two plants, the headquarters plant in Mitchell, South Dakota, and a new plant in West Fargo, North Dakota.

Trail King has been a Carlisle Company since 1995, but as of October 1, 2110, ownership changed to CC Industries Inc of Chicago, William Crown, president and CEO.

Pitts Enterprises of Pittsview, Ala-bama, manufactured 1,167 trailers, a 31% improvement compared to 2009. The increased business was spread across all three divisions, says Jeff Pitts, president and CEO.

Production at the headquarters plant in Pittsview is evenly split between logging trailers and forestry equipment on one side, and heavy-haul trailers on the other side. Dynaweld in Columbus, Georgia is continuing to expand its distribution of platforms and lowbeds. The Dorsey Trailer plant in Elba, Alabama, produces vans and reefer trailers, platforms, and chip vans.

“For 2011, we have the strongest backlog in the 35-year history of the company,” says Jeff Pitts, president and CEO. “And Dorsey Trailers will be celebrating its 100th year anniversary in Elba.”

Kidron of Kidron, Ohio, built 1,142 refrigerated distribution trailers, a 30% improvement over 2009 and an 8% increase over 2008. Kidron specializes in multi-temperature and multi-stop trailers up to 53 feet in length. They are built on two dedicated trailer lines in Kidron’s Montgomery, Pennsylvania, plant, which has been upgraded with all new insulation foaming equipment.

John Sommer, executive vice-president at Kidron , says the company is looking forward to an even better year in 2011, as strong ordering in the last half of 2010 is continuing into the new year.

East Manufacturing Company in Randolph, Ohio, built 985 all-aluminum truck trailers, a 73% increase over 2009 production. Not counted in this total are 60 dump bodies mounted on truck chassis. The trailer total includes 510 dump trailers, 350 platforms, and 125 transfer trailers for refuse.

“We expect to see a 30% to 40% improvement in sales in 2011,” says David Tate, president of East Mfg., “especially in dump trailers.” He attributes this growth to the introduction in 2010 of the East Genesis, a hybrid aluminum dump trailer combining flat side panels with a round bottom. “It gets us into markets where the half-round dump is popular.”

Doepker Industries Ltd of Ana-heim, Saskatchewan, built 950 trailers, a slight 3% increase over 2009. Ag trailers including grain hoppers were the bright spot in an otherwise stagnant market. But 2011 may be different.

“Diversity is the word for the current year, says Bill Schuler, vice-president of sales and marketing. “We haven’t had a diverse market for several years now. The oil patch is picking up now. Gravel haulers will be better. Ag trailers will stay good. Flatbeds will remain slow. But it will be a more diverse market.”

Reitnouer Inc in Reading, Penn-sylvania, more than doubled its 2009 production of flatbed trailers, but that amounted to only one-fourth of what it produced four years ago. In 2010 Reitnouer built 932 truck trailers, a 114% increase over 2009. Those are practically all bolted aluminum flatbeds and drop-deck trailers. While the company dominates the aluminum platform market in the Northeast, the recession inspired Bud Reitnouer, company president, to diversify, and a few of those 932 trailers are transfer trailers for solid waste hauling.

He says order booking is now three times the rate it was a few months ago, so he is looking to build 1,500 to 1,600 trailers in 2011. He says the really big year will be 2012. Normally 30% of his production is sold through Canadian dealers, but in 2010 about 60% of the reduced production ended up in Canada, which recovered faster than in the U.S.

Kentucky Trailer in Louisville, Kentucky, completed 871 custom van trailers, a 26% increase over 2009. Most of these are high performance vans designed for the furniture moving industry, but some are also package goods carriers for UPS and FedEx, as well as custom drop-frame vans for snack foods and autosports. The 20ll year promises to be even better judging from the good backlog, says Larry Roy, chief financial officer.

Road Systems Inc in Searcy, Arkansas, had a good year in new-built and refurbished van trailers, but it had an outstanding year in van trailer repair. The company reported 761 new-built and rebuilt vans, a 19% increase over 2009. Reconditioning and repair of vans rose from 2,010 units in 2009 to 3,055 last year, a 52% increase. This reconditioning includes body repairs, floor replacement or repair, and work on doors, for both its parent company and outside fleets. Lynn Reinbolt is president of Road Systems Inc.

Western Trailer in Boise, Idaho, built 587 trailers, up 15% from 2009. A market trend to more of the bulk commodity trailers was evident last year and again this year, says Tod Swanstrom, engineering manager. Platform trailers were formerly 50% of production, but now ag hoppers, belt unloaders and live floor trailers are increasingly popular. New orders look very good, he says, promising a solid, good year in 2011.

Tremcar Inc, with plants in both Canada and the United States, built 585 tank trailers, a 28% increase over 2009.

“We had a nice increase in stainless tanks, both food-grade and chemical, in 2010,” says Daniel Tremblay, president. “However, for 2011, we think crude oil tankers and dry bulk pneumatics will be the popular ones.”

Tremcar’s three plants are in St-Jean sur Richelieu (Quebec) and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and in Strasburg, Ohio.

Talbert Manufacturing Inc in Rensselaer, Indiana, which survived the recession in 2009 very well, thanks to ongoing military contracts, suffered a precipitous drop in 2010 because of the cancelation of military orders. Talbert built only 458 lowbeds and heavy haulers, down 61% from 2009.

“We built 800 units on military contracts in 2009, along with several hundred commercial trailers,” says Andy Tanner, president of Talbert. “In 2010 our 458 trailers were all on the commercial side.”

Beall Corporation in Portland, Oregon, had a disappointingly stable year at a very low level. Trailers were down but chassis-mounted truck bodies such as for truck-and-full-trailer operation were up. Trailers were down 8% to 358 and truck bodies were up 13% at 219. The total is 577 units, off six units or one percent below 2009.

Looking forward, Dan Jarboe, VP marketing, says 2011 may be 10% to 15% better, and with a stronger second half, as much as 25% better. The company is now quoting into June, but is being slowed by supplier shortages, especially suspensions. Most of the activity is in tank trailers, and less so in pneumatic dry bulk trailers, but dumps are still waiting for a pick-up in construction.

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor