Utility’s Craig Bennett goes over the many design changes that add up to a trailer that’s stronger and more durable.

Trailers take spotlight at MATS - Strong demand presents challenges, opportunities for industry

May 31, 2018
Mid-America Trucking Show 2018 coverage

Louisville, KY. While the big truck OEMs have downsized the once lavish exhibits that dominated the South wing at the Mid-America Trucking Show (or have abandoned MATS altogether), trailer manufactures stepped in to fill the prime space this year. And clearly, business is good. Very good.

But even as representatives of trailer makers and truck body builders large and small shared optimism about the current business climate, most also expressed concern that the boom times come with a new set of challenges: Material costs are soaring and suppliers are having a hard time keeping up with the industry demand, and the combination is making it difficult for manufacturers to price orders and schedule deliveries.

“People are wanting trailers. We’re getting a lot of pressure from our dealers,” said Craig Bennett, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. “But you can’t build trailers without the materials, I don’t care how many orders you take. If you can’t get the extrusions, if you can’t get the tires, if you can’t get the suspensions, you can’t build trailers. It’s a major issue because we don’t want to go to a second- or third-tier component just to meet demand.”

In a market this tight, Utility is having to allocate trailers to its dealers who, in turn, must do their best to take care of customers. But dealers are also taking advantage of the strong market to position themselves for the future.

Bennett reported that several Utility dealers had recently expanded their facilities in order to better support the brand and their customers.

“That’s one of the distinctions we have as a company: We have a network of trailer dealers that are the best in the industry,” he said. “They have parts, they have service, they have trained mechanics, they the facilities and the equipment to take care of their customers. Uptime is a really important thing that we focus on in our network.”

In terms of equipment, Utility is adjusting along with its fleet customers as they cope with driver retention challenges and on-time delivery demands. Specifically, more drop-and-hook operations mean a reduction in the length of haul, and more visits to the loading docks.

“When you’re running down the road at 65 mph, that’s easy on the trailers,” Bennett said. “When they’re hitting the dock and the fork lifts are in there loading and unloading, that’s when the wear and tear gets to a trailer.”

Among Utility’s solutions, Bennett explained in quick trip around their exhibit at MATS, the company is offering more “durable” specs, such as a 20,000-lb. dynamic fork truck capacity for the extruded aluminum extended-wear knurled duct floor in its 3000R reefer. The high wear floor system also features 30% more wear thickness than the standard reefer duct floor.

The reefer also features a new security lock as an alternative to the easily damaged lock box. Bennett also noted that the OEM now uses rounded rear bumper nodes versus previously square designs. “That rounded shape doesn’t suffer dock cuts the way the square-shaped bumpers did,” he said.

Additionally, the red load line is embedded in the lining, not painted on. The liner also features a 16” welded wearband, giving it a total wearband of 18”.

Also on display in Utility exhibit, the 4000AE Drop Deck flatbed trailer, featuring a combination of 3” and 4” aluminum crossmembers. It comes standard with a 39,000 lb. coil haul package with a 5-foot span of 4” tapered to 3” aluminum crossmembers on 8” centerlines. The 4000AE Drop Deck also comes with the ConMet aluminum hub system, and delivers an additional 541 lbs. of weight savings compared to the previous design.

The problem, in terms of marketing such improvements, is that a fleet owner doesn’t always realize the demands being placed on the equipment.

“They don’t think about trailers the way they do tractors,” Bennett said. “They think it will last 10 or 12 years even if you increase the amount of wear-and-tear it takes due to more frequent dock visits and carrying heavier pallets. That is the message we need to get out there.”