ACT Research
Total Trailer Backlog & Backlog Build Ratio September 2023

Trailer forecast clouded by freight market: ACT Research

Nov. 1, 2023
The data continue to provide 'mixed messages,' with trailer order cancellations remaining elevated, even as backlogs remain at healthy, albeit shorter, levels, the researchers noted

After three months of “dark clouds” on the trailer market horizon, the analysts at ACT Research were tempted to say, “here comes the sun,” as September opened the peak order season.

But, as the State of the Industry: U.S. Trailersreport noted, a) one month’s data isn’t enough “to blow those clouds away,” and b) the freight market clouds have also not started to clear.

“September’s order intake, at 31,300 units, signifies that interest remains and the negotiations of the past few months are turning into booked business,” said Jennifer McNealy, director–CV market research and publications at ACT Research. “What we don’t yet know, and why some in the industry still consider demand worse than a year ago, is how long this level of deal closing can be sustained amid the freight recession that has lingered through 2023.”

However, September marked the first time in 2023 that year-over-year comparisons have been positive, “so certainly a welcome sign for the industry,” she added.

Regarding the trailer backlog, orders outpaced production in September, as the annual peak order season kicked off in “good fashion.” Trailer backlogs grew 3% sequentially, but were nearly 21% lower y/y, against 2022’s supply-chain constrained and pent-up demand heavy environment. The backlog is now nearly 138.8k units.

“With a two-week drop, the positioning of the backlog relative to build remains healthy,” McNealy said. “Despite the month’s bigger backlog, a stronger September build rate pushed the seasonally adjusted backlog-to-build ratio to 6 months.

“At September’s build rate, the current backlog essentially commits the industry well into Q1’24. That said, the data continue to provide mixed messages, with cancellations remaining elevated, even as backlogs remain at healthy, albeit shorter, levels.”

ACT Research’s State of the Industry: U.S. Trailers report provides a monthly review of the current US trailer market statistics, as well as trailer OEM build plans and market indicators divided by all major trailer types, including backlogs, build, inventory, new orders, cancellations, net orders, and factory shipments.