Solid Year for Top-25 Trailer Builders—plus Lots of Chassis

March 5, 2019
Trailer Output Report

It was a big year for trailers—the biggest in years. The Top-25+ truck trailer manufacturers built more than 366,000 trailers in 2018. This is 51,000 more than the same group of 25-plus builders completed in 2017.

Almost all trailer manufacturers that build more than a thousand trailers a year benefited from the unusually good year. Only two of the 25+ builders listed here built fewer trailers in 2018, and they were down by only 3 and 4%.

The 2018 total continues a trend of peak-level production, topping 300,000 units for the fourth consecutive year.  The total also surpassed 360,000 units for the first time in the survey, which originated with a report on trailer production for 1993. (See Page 36 for a 25th anniversary retrospective look at the annual production count.) 

While responding companies have changed over the years, joining or dropping out of the list, 23 have appeared in each of the last five upward-trending reports. Notable OEMs missing this year include Heil Trailer and Polar Tank, now part of EnTrans International, and key additions are Fruehauf de Mexico and Premier Trailer Mfg.

However, the total count and individual ranking of manufacturers are somewhat skewed by unusually high container chassis numbers. The 25+ manufacturers reported chassis production at 15% of total trailers in 2018, up from 10% in 2017.

The 25+ builders listed here actually built over 314,000 complete trailers in 2018 plus approximately 52,000 incomplete trailers (container chassis). In 2017, these same 25+ built 282,000 complete trailers plus 33,000 chassis.

If we did not count container chassis, the ranking of trailer builders would be far different. Wabash National would be ranked first with 60,150 complete trailers and Hyundai Translead would rank second with 59,116 complete trailers. Vanguard National with its 15,000 complete trailers would drop from third to sixth place below Great Dane, Utility Trailer and Stoughton Trailers. 

With or without the chassis numbers, it was still a fantastic year for trailers, calling into question the supposedly cyclic nature of the trailer industry. Production was limited only by the cost and availability of materials and components, according to our manufacturer survey.

With large backlogs carrying over into the new year, most of the 25+ are predicting a repeat of the build rate in 2019, at least for the first six months. Beyond that, there are too many variables in Washington DC and overseas to predict confidently.

The trailer totals reported here cannot be compared directly with other domestic surveys that do not also include Canadian and Mexican trailer plants. This survey does not attempt to report on the many small manufacturing plants located throughout North America, so the total trailer build is somewhat larger than the Top-25 numbers reported here.

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

Here is how the individual trailer manufacturers reported their trailer production in 2018:

  Hyundai Translead of San Diego, California, built 65,737 total truck trailers in 2018, an 8% increase over 2017. This total includes 59,116 complete trailers, 127 trailers more than the prior year, or half of 1% more. The biggest increase was in incomplete trailers (container chassis), where production more than doubled to 6,621 chassis in 2018. 

Dry freight van production actually declined slightly (by 127 vans) to 55,065 trailers. More than half of these were produced in Hyundai’s new van plant in Rosarito, Mexico, 40 minutes southwest of the main plant in Tijuana. Refrigerated trailer production was up slightly (1.5%) to 3,708 reefers. 

Flatbed production increased from 70 units in 2017 to 343 flats in 2018. Hyundai also built 1,774 converter dollies, more than double the prior year, but these are not counted as trailers in the Top-25 total. These trailer production numbers for 2017 and 2018 were reported by Brian Shin, senior specialist, sales and marketing strategy at Hyundai Translead. 

  Wabash National Corporation shipped 60,150 complete truck-trailers in 2018, an 11% increase above 2017. This is the highest number of complete trailers shipped by any North American manufacturer in 2018. However, Wabash did not report any incomplete trailers (container chassis), and so was second highest when counting total trailers.

All four trailer product lines were up significantly at Wabash National. Dry freight van trailers increased 9% on shipments of 49,150 vans. Refrigerated van trailer shipments increased 10% to 4,350 reefers. The biggest jump was in flatbed trailers, up 54% to 4,000 flats. Tank trailers were up 18% to 2,650 shipments. 

Wabash also built 2,000 converter dollies, almost double those built the prior year, but these are not counted in the Top-25 trailer total.

The biggest change in the Wabash product line was in truck bodies. In 2017, Wabash made a big investment in the future “Final Mile delivery” emphasis by purchasing truck body builder Supreme Industries Inc. In 2018 Wabash shipped more than four times as many truck bodies, 22,800, as in 2017, and that year truck body production was nine times the 2016 total.

“The year 2018 was important in Wabash National’s progression toward becoming a stronger company,” reported Brent Yeagy, president and CEO. 

The publicly traded company reported revenue grew 28% to a record $2.27 billion.

“We made significant progress in integrating the Supreme business into our Final Mile Products segment and positioning that business for continued growth,“ Yeagy said, commenting on fourth quarter earnings report. “We also made significant progress with the development and commercialization of our next generation of engineered materials, which serve to further differentiate our products.”

These new technologies include Duraplate Cell Core, which provides substantial weight savings while maintaining superior performance, as well as molded structural composite (MSC) technology. 

Wabash produced 100 MSC refrigerated trailers and 100 MSC truck bodies in 2018. For 2019, the company expects to reach over one million miles of total road exposure of the MSC units, greatly advancing the collection of valuable data and feedback from launch customers.

“The value proposition of the technology includes reduced operating costs, improved thermal efficiency, increased payload capabilities, and extended asset life,” Yeagy said. 

Looking forward to 2019, Yeagy added, “We are focused on improving the execution required to tackle the operating challenges experienced during the second half of 2018, including supplier disruptions (specifically chassis availability issues), continued labor market tightness, and material cost inflation.”

Fourth quarter 2018 backlog increased 47% over the year earlier Q4 to $1.8 billion. 

“I expect 2019 to be a strong year for Wabash National,” Yeagy said. “We expect full-year revenue between $2.25 billion to $2.35 billion based on current backlog.”

  Vanguard National Trailer Corp continues to report the container chassis built by its parent CIMC USA and the dry freight vans and reefers built by Vanguard National.

Vanguard produced 11,800 dry freight vans at its headquarters plant in Monon, Indiana, and its new plant in Trenton, Georgia. This is 25% more vans than in 2017.

Vanguard built 3,200 refrigerated vans in Monon and in its reefer plant in Moreno Valley, California, a 27% increase over the prior year. Dry van and refrigerated vans together total 15,000, 25% better than 2017.

CIMC Intermodal Equipment plants in South Gate, California and Emporia, Virginia, produced 43,000 container chassis, 53% more than in 2017. CIMC chassis and Vanguard van production together total 58,000 units, a 45% increase.

Charlie Mudd, president of Vanguard National, says because of the healthy backlogs going into the new year, he is very optimistic for more increased production in 2019, especially vans and reefers. 

 Great Dane Limited Partnership built 49,000 trailers in 2018, a 7% increase. Although not counted in the Top-25 trailer total, the company also built 1,300 truck bodies, an 18% increase. 

“Our customers in all major segments (dry freight vans, refrigerated vans, flatbeds, and truck bodies) remain optimistic,”says Chris Hammond IV, executive vice-president, sales. 

“We entered 2019 with extended backlogs and are building at a higher pace than last year. Nevertheless, we expect 2019 trailer builds will be about the same as last year.”

  Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. built 48,802 trailers in 2018, a 13% increase over 2017. This includes 21,122 dry freight vans, a 10% increase, and 24,586 refrigerated trailers, an 11% increase. Utility flatbed and curtainsider production increased a whopping 64% to 3,094 trailers.

Craig Bennett, senior vice-president sales and marketing, characterized order activity in 2018 as “frenetic.”

“It was an outstanding year,” says Bennett, “but we were limited by material shortages and delivery of materials and components.

“We had more demand than capacity to build and deliver in the customer’s time-frame. There is still no let-up in demand, but fleets don’t want to wait for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2019. Third-quarter slots are almost filled now. 

“Right now there may be some slight softening of demand in the flatbed sector, but this is still winter and not a good time for construction,” adds Bennett. 

 Stoughton Trailers LLC in Stoughton, Wisconsin, shipped 15,832 trailers in 2018, an increase of 1.5% over the prior year. This total includes dry freight vans, grain, livestock and refrigerated trailers.

“We have already witnessed a strong demand for dry van trailers going into 2019,” says Bob Wahlin, president and CEO. “With that strong backlog and with our refrigerated trailer line advancing beyond developmental runs into full production, we expect to see continued growth in 2019.

“Despite labor availability challenges, by focusing on employee development and on automation, we have been able to grow with far fewer team members than in previous years,” adds Wahlin.

“With unemployment at historic lows throughout the country, the labor market is expected to remain tight. Developing the skills of team members combined with investment in the right complement of tools and equipment is more important than ever before.”

  Fontaine Trailer Company of Birmingham, Alabama, built 8,541 trailers in 2018, an increase of 46% over 2017.

“It was a very robust year for the U. S. open deck trailer business”, says Hank Prochazka, president of Fontaine Transportation Group. “Now 2019 is starting out very strong, but with depressed oil pricing and slowing new housing starts, we believe it will be a good year, but not at the 2018 level.”

 MANAC Inc of Saint-Georges, Quebec, completed 8,300 truck-trailers in 2018, an increase of 14% and an all-time high for the company. 

“It will be remembered as a very positive year, but we faced many challenges in material availability and cost, as well labor,” says Charles Dutil, president of MANAC. “Like most manufacturers, we conclude 2018 with a strong backlog and expect a very solid 2019.”

In addition to its main manufacturing operations in Quebec, MANAC builds flatbed trailers and bottom dumps in its two manufacturing plants in Oran and Kennett, Missouri. Its newest acquisition, the former Peerless Ltd plant in British Columbia, produces forestry, logging and heavy-haul trailers. 

  EnTrans International LLC of Athens, Tennessee is a leading manufacturer of tank trailers. It includes the tank trailer manufacturing plants of Heil Trailer International of Athens, Polar Tank Trailer of Holdingford, Minnesota, and the heavy-haul trailer plant of Kalyn Siebert in Gatesville, Texas.

Those three trailer companies produced 5,000 tank and lowbed trailers in 2017. Last year, EnTrans increased production 54%, producing 7,684 trailers from the same three companies.

EnTrans International LLC also owns the Polar Service Centers, and the Jarco and Serva brands. It is owned by American Industrial Partners, a middle-market private equity firm.

  Strick Corporation built 6,100 trailers and chassis in 2018, which is an increase of 36%, reports Ben Katz, marketing manager.

“The demand for dry freight vans was incredibly strong in 2018. We are operating two assembly lines at our Strick plant in Monroe, Indiana, and building a wide variety of customized trailers. We expect this demand to remain strong through 2019,” says Katz.

“The demand for intermodal chassis is also strong. We are currently building chassis at both our Berwick, Pennsylvania, and Sumter, South Carolina, plants in addition to the flatbed and logging products we build in those facilities.”

  MAC Trailer Manufacturing of Alliance, Ohio, built a total of 5,994 trailers in 2018, an increase of 26%.

“We had a great year in 2018,” says Michael A. Conny, president of MAC Trailer Enterprises. “We just opened two new plants, in Rhome, Texas, building tank trailers, and in Davis, Oklahoma, building flatbed trailers. We are looking toward an even better year in 2019.”

 Pitts Enterprises in Pittsview, Alabama, built 4,800 heavy-duty trailers in 2018, an increase of 9.1% over 2017. Over half of these were Pitts’ new all-aluminum flatbed and drop-deck platform model now 2 years old and built in a dedicated 40,000-sq-ft facility.

CEO Jeff Pitts sees continuing growth in 2019 for both the aluminum flatbed business and the company’s forestry and heavy-haul division in Pittsview, but the bigger potential may come from Pitts’ entry into intermodal container chassis two years ago. He sees his Dorsey Intermodal division well-positioned to serve the pre eminent Port of Charleston and other southeastern ports.

 Reitnouer Inc. in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, built 3,695 all-aluminum, bolted flatbeds and drop-deck platform trailers in 2018, a 21% increase over 2017. Bud Reitnouer, president, was expecting a 15% increase, and now that momentum is carrying over into 2019.

“The real challenge this year is maintaining margins in the face of the rising cost of materials,” Reitnouer says. “With the volatility in commodities pricing, it is difficult to provide realistic quotes four to five months before build times.”

  East Manufacturing Company of Randolph, Ohio, built 3,393 all-aluminum trailers in 2018, an 18% increase over 2017. The dump trailer count was 1,184, a gain of 15% over the prior year. Flatbed trailers increased even more—38% over 2017 to 1,868 flat trailers. Aluminum refuse transfer trailers were 341, down 10%. East also built 120 non-trailer truck bodies.

“We anticipate another increase in the market in 2019,” says David de Poincy, president. “The first six months are continuing strong, but may taper off in the last half. We anticipate building 3,500 to 3,600 trailers in 2019, or about a 5% increase.

“The big challenge will be staying ahead of material costs and tariffs. We buy 1.5 million pounds of aluminum each month,” says de Poincy. “We had to increase our trailer prices three times in 2018.”

 Timpte Inc in David City, Nebraska built 3,080 grain trailers in 2018, down 4% from 2017.

“The agriculture market is still a little soft,” says Dale Jones, president. “We expect the market will improve in 2019.”

That optimism is expressed in an ongoing construction program. The company will be opening a new corporate headquarters in David City this year. Two new full-service branches will be opened, one in Nebraska and one in Indiana. 

 Trail King Industries in Mitchell, South Dakota, built 2,400 trailers in 2018, a 14% increase over the prior year. The company also built 750 light-duty tag trailers that are not counted in the Top-25 total.

“It was a strong year across all product lines,” says Gene Astolfi, chief financial officer. “We are looking for another strong year in 2019, maybe up 5% to 10%, but depending on the global political unrest.” 

  Fruehauf de Mexico in Coacalco, Estado de Mexico, built 2,369 trailers in 2018, an 11% increase over 2017. The plant in the suburbs northwest of Mexico City is the same one occupied by Fruehauf International for 50 years, but now owned since 2015 by Alta Growth Capital. Scott McDonough is the local spokesman for the Alta board of directors.

Carlos Porragas, CEO, is heading the new management team in Mexico that is upgrading the company to meet North American size and weight standards. Fruehauf de Mexico produces a wide range of dry and refrigerated vans, flatbeds and drop-decks, dump trailers, dry bulk pneumatics and tank trailers. 

  Doepker Industries in Anaheim, Saskatchewan, Canada, built 1,970 trailers in 2018, a big increase of 52% over the preceding year. Half of these trailers were in the agriculture market, including Doepker’s Super B-train ag hauler in both tandem and tri-axle configurations.

Doepker also builds a wide range of dump trailers, flatbeds, heavy-haul and oilfield trailers. It is looking for further growth in the new year, according to Devin Leonard, Canadian director of sales and marketing. 

  Kentucky Trailer of Louisville, Kentucky, built 1,866 trailers in 2018, an increase of 32% over the prior year, reports Gary Parker, chief operating officer. Most of these were custom 53-ft van trailers with special tie-down equipment and underbody storage boxes to haul furniture and household goods. Kentucky also built 570 truck bodies for household goods moving companies and other local delivery companies.

  XPO Logistics Trailer Manufacturing in Searcy, Arkansas, built 1,774 van trailers in 2018, down 3%. These are practically all new trailers and most are for the XPO Logistics fleet. Almost three-fourths are short 28-ft trailers for doubles operation.

The mix of trailer lengths are: short 28-ft vans, 1,285; standard 48-ft vans, 406; long 53-ft vans, 58. XPO Mfg also built 25 very long 57-ft vans for another customer. 

G. Paul Reed, manufacturing general manager, says about the same number of vans are scheduled for build in 2019. 

  Felling Trailers Inc in Saux Centre, Minnesota, built 1,688 truck-trailers in 2018, an increase of 11% over the prior year. They also built 4,572 light-duty trailers, an increase of 3%.

“We are expecting an increase of 5% to 8% in the heavy-duty trailer market in 2019, but our light-duty trailers will stay at the same level,” says Patrick Jennissen, sales and marketing vice-president. 

  Western Trailer in Boise, Idaho, built 1,142 trailers in 2018, a 15% increase over the previous year. 

“After a slow start for the first couple of months, production picked up across all product lines and was strong through the end of the year and into 2019,” says Todd Swanstrom, engineering manager. “With strong ordering, we expect this pace will continue through 2019.”

  Premier Trailer Mfg. Inc, in Visalia, California, built 1,088 trailers in 2018, a 9% growth over 2017. These are primarily 22-ft long hopper trailers designed to haul tree nuts and grains in the fields and on the highway as doubles connected by a 6-foot drawbar.

Jason Evett, operations manager, says the growth rate for the coming year will be about 10% based on strong ordering for the nut and grain hoppers as well as flatbeds and cotton trailers. The company will also introduce a new prototype cargo trailer outside the ag area.

  Talbert Manufacturing in Rensselear, Indiana, built 1,062 heavy-haul trailer units in 2018, a 33% increase over the preceding year, reports Troy Geisler, vice-president, sales and marketing. 

  Tremcar Inc, in Montreal, Canada, built 959 tank trailers in 2018, an increase of 16% over the prior year. It also built 217 tanks mounted on truck chassis at its newly expanded truck tank plant in Malden, Massachusetts, for a total of 1,176 tank units.

Daniel Tremblay, president, announced that the company will celebrate construction of its 20,000th tank trailer on March 15 at its headquarters plant in Montreal. It is a stainless steel chemical trailer.

Besides the Canadian plants in Montreal and Toronto, Tremcar has a tank trailer plant in Strasburg, Ohio. It is being expanded this spring to increase production of petroleum and chemical trailers.

  Travis Body and Trailer of Houston, Texas, has a very steady market, building practically the same number of dump bodies each year. In 2018 the total increased by seven trailers to 949, and the outlook for the new year is about the same. “We would like to break the 1,000-trailer mark,”says Stuart Swint, president.

Click here to view the Production Figurers Table 
2018 Trailer Production Figures (PDF)

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor