No más! Trailer makers maxed out as February orders stay strong

Trailer orders in February moderated slightly but still challenged manufacturers to keep up.

“We have temporarily paused intake as we wait for the suppliers to provide costing out beyond our backlog,” David Giesen, Stoughton Trailers vice president of sales and marketing, told FreightWaves. “We are essentially filled for the year.”

Space might free up as bookings convert to written orders, he said.

FTR Transportation Intelligence said trailer orders fell 23% month over month in February. But orders were 64% ahead of the same month a year ago. 

ACT Research preliminarily put February’s net order volume at 24,200, up 82% from a year ago but down 21% from January 2021 bookings. Orders on a rolling 12-month basis total 322,000, according to FTR.

Year-over-year comparisons will look especially strong in coming months compared to pandemic shutdowns in spring 2020. For example, net orders were effectively zero in April last year.

Surging freight markets continue to drive orders even after a record fourth quarter of 2020.   Most fleets have booked orders for delivery this year, especially dry and refrigerated vans. Lagging flatbed and other vocational segments expect to continue to recover with a rebound in manufacturing.

Supply chain bottlenecks

“[Manufacturers] are under pressure to fill these orders due to bottlenecks in the supply chain,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “Suppliers are facing worker shortages; some raw materials are scarce and there are still delays getting some imported parts through the West Coast ports.”

When that situation improves, expect steady production at high volumes for an extended time, Ake said.

“We are pushing the supply chain on many components and materials,” Stoughton’s Giesel said. “Concern will be the word of choice as we navigate through the coming months. There is not one [shortage] that seems to stick out but many.”

February’s sequential decline in net orders was greater than seasonal patterns would project. But it was directionally correct, according to Frank Maly, ACT director of transportation analysis and research. The industry backlog grew in February to its highest since March 2019 even as production rates ticked up only slightly.

“With many [manufacturers] reporting their capacity committed for the year, there may be some reluctance to push the backlog horizon out even further, on both the part of [manufacturers] and fleets,” Maly said.

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