Refrigerated trailers were one of the industry’s bright spots in 2016. Reefers posted gains over 2015, a record year for trailer manufacturing as a whole.
Most truck-trailer manufacturers had a good year in 2016. It was not a record year, but it was not supposed to be. The Top-25 (plus two) trailer and container chassis builders reported a combined total of almost 315,000 trailers and chassis, compared to almost 338,000 in 2015.
The production picture is a little brighter when comparing only complete trailers. Eliminating the container chassis numbers, manufacturers built 282,680 complete trailers in 2016, down 5.2% from the 298,081 in 2015.
Dry freight van trailers are built by the eight largest trailer manufacturers. Those approximately 185,000 dry vans represent two-thirds of the entire trailer build, and refrigerated vans another one-sixth. Dry and reefer vans together account for 84% of the entire complete trailer build.
It was a great year for refrigerated trailers. The Top-25 van builders turned out some 47,000 refrigerated vans, a 2.5% increase in a down year.
Some of those same van builders manufactured 5,125 converter dollies, double the 2,396 in 2015. Converter dollies are not counted as trailers, but they are a necessary part of operating doubles or twin trailers. That suggests an increasing number of the van trailers built were short 28-ft or so doubles rather than 48-ft or 53-ft vans.
These Top-25 manufacturers also built about 19,000 platform trailers and 7,500 tank trailers, both groups suffering greatly from the decline in drilling activity. However, late December and early January 2017 reports indicate the start of a possible resurgence in the oil patch. World Oil, a voice for the upstream oil industry, suggests 2017 drilling activity will increase 30% in the United States, 21% in Canada, and 9% in the Gulf of Mexico deep waters.
Some of these Top-25 companies also built approximately 5,000 dump trailers and refuse transfer trailers. Another group of Top-25 companies built 6,000 grain and bulk commodity trailers.
The three companies that built container chassis in the USA in 2016 reported production of 32,286 chassis, down 19% from the 39,780 chassis built by four companies in 2015. These 32,286 chassis are 10.25% of the total trailer and chassis build.
The trailer totals reported here cannot be compared directly with other domestic surveys that do not also include Canadian and Mexican assembly plants. This survey does not attempt to report on the many small manufacturing plants located throughout North America, so the total trailer build actually is a somewhat higher number than the Top-25 numbers shown 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 profitability or revenue received, but only the number of trailers produced. The dollar value of a trailer can vary greatly depending on design, type of construction, materials used, and quality level.
Here is how the individual trailer manufacturers performed in 2016:
► Wabash National Corporation shipped 59,500 total trailers in 2016, about 5.5% less than in 2015. This includes 49,650 dry freight van trailers, down 2%. Refrigerated vans, however, were up 8% to 4,900 trailers.
Platforms and tank trailer shipments were both down more than 30% at Wabash in 2016. Flatbeds declined 36% to 2,850 flats. Tank trailers took the biggest hit, down 38% to 2,100 tanks. Wabash also shipped 1,450 converter dollies, down 9%, but these are not counted in the trailer total. Nor are the 550 non-trailer truck bodies, up 22%.
Wabash reported its financial results on February 2 showing net sales of $1.8 billion in 2016, down 9% from the two billion sales in 2015. However, its net income of $119 million was up 14% compared to the $104 million in 2015. This increase in profitability in spite of lower sales is explained by a pricing strategy of favoring margin over volume, gain from the sale of company branches, capital investment in automation and productivity, and continued material cost optimization.
Wabash’s Commercial Trailer Products segment, with shipments of 58,850 new trailers and net sales of $1.5 billion, had a gross profit margin of 16.8%, an increase of 34% compared to the 2015 margin.
In the Diversified Products segment with shipments of 2,100 new tank trailers and net sales of $352 million, the gross profit margin was 21.5%, down 8% from the 2015 margin. Wabash has acquired tank trailer manufacturers such as Beall, Brenner Tank, Bulk Tank International, Garsite, Progress Tank, and Walker.
The average value of each Wabash Commercial Products trailer shipped in 2016 was $24,156, slightly higher (half of one percent) than in 2015. The average value of each Diversified Products tank trailer shipped in 2016 was $61,733, which is 3.7% less than the $64,125 average tank trailer shipped in 2015, according to the Wabash National financial statements.
“We enter 2017 with great momentum from a record 2016, healthy trailer demand environment generating a strong backlog, continued excellence in operational performance, and the potential for organic growth through diversification and innovative new product introductions,” said Dick Giromini, Wabash CEO, at an investor relations conference.
“Coupled with an industry demand forecast that is meaningfully above replacement demand values for the fourth consecutive year,” Giromini continued, “Our full year new trailer and earnings guidance for 2017 is 51,000 to 55,000 units and $1.40 to $1.55 per diluted share.”
► Hyundai Translead built 50,706 truck-trailers in 2016, a 2% gain over 2015. The biggest gain was in dry freight van trailers, up 14% to 45,886 vans. This includes some heated and insulated vans. Refrigerated vans were up 8% to 2,250 reefers.
Platform trailer production more than doubled to 456 platforms. Hyundai container chassis were down 70% to 2,114 chassis.
Hyundai built five times as many converter dollies (2,675) as it did in 2015, but dollies are not counted in the trailer total. However, it is indicative of the large number of short trailers built for doubles operation by long-haul fleets and package delivery customers such as Fed-Ex.
To handle the increased number of dry vans ordered, Hyundai opened a new manufacturing plant in Rosarito, Mexico, some 30 miles southwest of its main trailer plants in Tijuana. Rosarito is a large city right on the Pacific Ocean. It is a tourist destination for fishing and also has film studios, including the studio where the Titanic was filmed.
This new 547,000 sq ft plant opened in October 2016. It has an annual capacity of 25,000 van trailers, thus replacing and retiring one van line in the main plant. It is designed as one long assembly line, with subassemblies stationed alongside, nearest the point of assembly on the main line.
The outlook for 2017 at Hyundai Translead is “cautiously optimistic,” says Brett Bartels, deputy general manager in charge of the dealer network. Hyundai has 77 dealers in the United States, 16 in Canada,and one in Mexico.
► Great Dane Limited Partnership built 48,000 truck-trailers in 2016, a seven percent decline from the 51,500 trailers produced in 2015. The company also built 1,100 truck bodies in 2016, but these are not counted in the trailer total.
► Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. has set new records in refrigerated trailer manufacturing numbers for each of the last five years. In 2016 that string of records ended with an almost tie. Utility Trailer is still the largest manufacturer of refrigerated trailers, but for the first time in six years, it did not beat its own previous year’s record. It failed by one percent to set a new higher mark.
Utility Trailer built 25,269 refrigerated trailers in 2016, some 283 trailers short of the previous year’s production. Utility Trailer built more than half of all the reefer trailers built by all manufacturers in the United States in 2016.
Total truck-trailer production at Utility Trailer in 2016 was 46,040 trailers, down 6%. It includes dry freight van production of 19,087, down 6%, and its flatbed and Tautliner production of 1,684, down 41% from the 2,849 platforms built in 2015.
Unit numbers don’t tell the whole story, says Craig Bennett, senior vice-president in charge of sales and marketing. Buyers are increasingly adding more special options that add more man-hours in production and cost to the Trailer. These include special walk ramps, door openings, load tie-downs, multiple temperature compartments, door securement to prevent load tampering, etc.
Utility added two new models in the fourth quarter of 2016. One is a dry freight van with a taller and thicker bottom rail. This heavier bottom rail extends 20 inches up the sidewall, and then a wear band adds more protection inside. The 4000D-X Composite TBR (for Tall Bottom Rail) has a 65,000-lb GVWR and 20,000-lb forklift rated floor.
The second new Utility model is a new combo platform that has aluminum crossmembers that are bolted to the steel main frame. It offers the “weight of an aluminum platform at the price of a combination steel-aluminum platform.” Even with its standard 47,000-lb coil package, the new 4000AE weighs 536 lb less than the base model 4000 platform.
The outlook for 2017 is fairly optimistic, says Bennett. It may be down a little bit, but not too bad.
► Vanguard National Trailer Corporation is reporting for the fourth year both the container chassis made by its parent company, CIMC USA and the van trailers and reefers built by Vanguard National.
Vanguard produced 10,582 dry freight vans at its Monon, Indiana, headquarters plant and its new Trenton, Georgia, plant that was opened in July 2016. This build number is 2% down from the dry vans built in the Monon plant in 2015.
Vanguard scored a four percent gain in refrigerated trailer production. It built 2,813 reefers in Monon and its reefer plant in Moreno Valley, California.
Combined dry freight and refrigerated trailer production at Vanguard National amounted to 13,395 complete trailers in 2016. This was down 1% from 2015.
CIMC Intermodal Equipment in Southgate, California, and Emporia, Virginia, produced 27,672 domestic container chassis and ISO container chassis in 2016. This is down 5% from 2015.
The combined total of Vanguard National trailers and CIMC container chassis produced in 2016 is 41,067 units, down 4% from 2015.
Charlie Mudd, president of Vanguard National Trailer Corporation, says that after the first month of the new year, “2017 is a little softer so far”.
► Stoughton Trailers LLC in Stoughton, Wisconsin, built 16,400 van trailers, in 2016, a 13% increase over its van production in 2015. However, the company dropped out of container chassis production for 2016, which means its total trailer production in 2016 increased only 3%.
Stoughton also produced 800 converter dollies in 2016, five times as many as the previous year, but dollies are not counted in the trailer total.
“We plan to continue to increase production and staffing this year,” says Bob Wahlin, president of Stoughton Trailers. Earlier in 2016, the company completed renovation of its Evansville WI facility from intermodal containers to specialty dry freight vans, including high-option vans, drop-frames, open-tops, furniture vans, etc., as well as container chassis.
Stoughton is also producing developmental quantities of refrigerated trailers. “We expect to be in full scale production of refrigerated trailers in 2018 in our Evansville facility, along with specialty dry van trailers and container chassis,” says Wahlin. “We are making massive investments in new automation technology there as well as in Stoughton and Brodhead.”
► MANAC of St-Georges, Quebec, built 7,750 trailers in their four plants in Canada and the United States. This is a five percent decline from the 8,200 built in 2015.
“It was a solid year,” says Charles Dutil, president. “We were helped by the favorable exchange rate of the Canadian dollar (now about 76 cents U.S.), but were burdened by the low economic level in the western provinces after the downturn in the energy sector.”
He thinks 2017 will be a bit slower, but still a solid year.
Besides its main manufacturing plant in Quebec, MANAC builds platform trailers and bottom dumps in two U. S. plants in Oran and Kennett, Missouri. Its newest acquisition, the former Peerless Ltd plant in British Columbia, produces forestry, logging, and heavy-haul trailers.
► Strick Corporation built 4,900 truck-trailers in 2016, a 14% increase over 2015. This includes 2,200 dry freight vans built in its Monroe, Indiana, plant, a 22% increase. Strick’s Berwick, Pennsylvania, plant turned out 2,500 container chassis, a 14% increase. Its Sumter, South Carolina, plant built 200 platforms and logging trailers down 33%. Ben Katz, Strick president, says the company also built 200 converter dollies (not counted in the trailer total).
► MAC Trailer Manufacturing of Alliance, Ohio, built 4,200 truck trailers in 2016, down 14% from 2015. These include aluminum and steel dump trailers, aluminum refuse trailers, aluminum flatbeds and drop-decks, aluminum dry bulk pneumatic trailers, and aluminum and stainless steel liquid tank trailers. The company also built 184 truck-mounted bodies not counted in the trailer total.
► Pitts Enterprises in Pittsview, Alabama, produced 3,490 trailers in 2016. This was down 15%, following two years of healthy increases of 24% and 44%.
“We had a great year building platforms,” says Jeffrey Pitts, CEO. The company introduced its new all-aluminum platform, in both flatbed and drop-deck configurations. It is being built in a new 100,000 sq. ft. plant in Elba, Alabama, along with Pitts’ steel and combo-steel-aluminum platforms.
Pitts’ other plant in Elba, the Dorsey Trailer plant, continues to build van trailers, including walking floor and tipping van trailers for hauling wood chips and other bulk materials. The Pitts plant in Pittsview AL builds heavy-haul and logging trailers.
► Fontaine Trailer Company of Birmingham, Alabama, built 3,296 trailers in 2016. This is a 57% decline from the 7,655 trailers produced the previous year. Platform sales were hit hardest, but heavy-haul trailers were also down.
In addition to the market problem in the oilfield, Fontaine faced an inventory problem. High demand in 2015 resulted in optimistic sales orders, and about five months of production was already on the ground in dealer inventories before the start of 2016.
With that problem behind them, the company is expecting some improvement in 2017. Early 2017 ordering and production show that the first quarter will be “okay, not good but okay”, says Hank Prochazka, president of the Fontaine Commercial Group. Beyond that, a number of indicators give hope for more optimism in the coming year.
► Reitnouer Inc. in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, built 3,077 trailers in 2016, down 15% from 2015 production. These are all bolted aluminum platforms and drop-deck platforms.
Bud Reitnouer, president, had predicted a year ago that the market might be soft and the company might be down 10%. Actually, the decline was a little more, but almost the same (2% better) compared to their 2014 production of 3,020 trailers.
► Heil Trailer International, headquartered in Athens, Tennessee, built 2,780 truck-trailers in 2016, down 40% from 2015.
Heil’s petroleum and crude oil tank trailers were hit hard by the decline in the energy sector, as well as dry bulk trailers used to haul fracking sand for drilling operations. Even its Kalyn Siebert subsidiary building heavy-haul trailers is heavily involved in the oil patch.
However, Heil Trailer increased its market share in some areas, such as large cube dry bulk pneumatic trailers used for hauling lighter products such as plastic pellets, says Ryan Rockafellow, VP sales and marketing. Also, Rockafellow points out that Heil’s stainless steel tank trailer segment is experiencing new growth and market share.
► Timpte Inc in David City, Nebraska, built 2,758 grain trailers, down 30% from the 3,924 built in 2015.
“All of the agricultural industry was off 30% to 40% last year,” says Dale Jones, president of Timpte. “Part of it may be market saturation after so many exceptionally good years. There was a little rebound in the fourth quarter, so maybe we have most of the decline behind us.”
A little uptick in orders for the first month of 2017 leads him to think the new year may be slightly better.
► East Manufacturing Company built 2,482 trailers in 2016. This was down 25% below the previous year, partially because a big fleet order for refuse trailers distorted the total in 2015.
Aluminum and steel dump trailers numbered 1,303 in 2016, and all-aluminum platforms were 927. Production of aluminum refuse trailers were a more normal 252 than the 664 in 2015. East also built 145 aluminum dump bodies (not counted in the trailer total), bringing the total unit count to 2,627 for 2016.
The outlook for 2017 is a lot different. “December was our biggest order booking ever,” says David de Poincy, president, “and January is almost as good. We are hiring back all the workers we lost in July, and our backlog is back to six months.”
► Polar Tank Trailer of Holdingford, Minnesota, built 2,150 tank trailers in 2016, down 14% from 2015.
“We are expecting a little improvement this year”, says Mark Hunsley,, vice-president, sales and marketing.
► Trail King Industries in Mitchell, South Dakota, built 2,100 truck-trailers, down 16% from 2015. In addition, they also built 600 light-duty trailers with axle capacities under 10,000 lb, a 9% increase.
“Our business was good for the first half, then dropped off in the second half,” says Gene Astolfi, CFO. “In 2017, we expect the inverse—a flat first half, then picking up in the second half.”
► Felling Trailers in Saux Centre, Minnesota, built 1,427 truck-trailers in 2016, a 25% increase over 2015 output. The company also built 3,598 light-duty trailers with individual axle capacities under 10,000 lb. This was an 8% increase. The combined light and heavy-duty trailers totaled 5,025, a 12% increase over 2015.
“Demand for our products was stronger than we forecast a year ago,” says Patrick Jennissen, VP sales and marketing. “Looking forward, we are anticipating about a 7% increase in 2017.”
► XPO Logistics Trailer Manufacturing of Searcy, Arkansas, (formerly Con-Way Manufacturing) turned out 1,401 van trailers in 2016. This was 46% less than the 2,600 trailers in 2015. The company manufactures van trailers for use by XPO Logistics LTL and XPO Logistics Truckload.
The 2016 production included 400 new van trailers and 1,000 refurbished vans. Almost 900 were short vans for double-trailer operation. The other 500 vans were long trailers ranging from 45 to 53 feet in length.
The outlook for 2017 is for a 23% increase in production. Paul Reed says this includes 300 refurbished vans and 1,400 new vans using composite sidewalls (a composite core sandwiched between two thin, high-tensile steel skins).
► Kentucky Trailer, Louisville, Kentucky, built 1,336 trailers in 2016, up 10% from the 1,216 built in 2015. The company manufactures custom trailers for the moving and storage, snack food, package delivery and logistics industries. It also builds specialty vehicles for mobile medical, military/government, mobile marketing and other niche markets.
In November 2016, Kentucky Trailer announced acquisition of the assets of Bussman Medical and Research based in the Netherlands. Bussman specializes in design and construction of modular units for the healthcare industry, including operating theatres, endoscopy units, dialysis units, maternity suites, pharmacies, etc.
Larry Roy, executive vice-president of Kentucky, says that Bussman will be rolled into Smit Mobile Equipment, manufacturer of medical vans in the Netherlands that Kentucky Trailer acquired in October 2015.
Randy Doering, VP of sales, marketing and business development at Kentucky Trailer, reports a strong backlog of orders and anticipates continued growth 2017.
► Western Trailer in Boise, Idaho, built 1,278 trailers in 2016, down about 4% or 48 trailers less than in 2015. The continuing drought in the West is keeping agriculture related industries at a steady, below-normal business level. Platform trailers are soft, while the bulk commodity and ag trailers remain steady.
“We are always optimistic,” says Todd Swanstrom, engineering manager, “but right now we see a steady market in 2017 with no big changes coming.”
► Doepker Industries in Annaheim, Saskatchewan, Canada, had a good year manufacturing grain trailers. Their forestry trailers, oilfield equipment and dump trailers were down, as predicted. Platforms were moderately good in a difficult year.
The good news is the Doepker aluminum Super B-train ag hauler. This B-train consists of a three-axle lead trailer and two-axle rear trailer. When coupled to the normal three-axle tractor, the 8-axle combination stretches out to 90 feet, the maximum legal B-train overall combination length limit in Saskatchewan. Gross weight is limited to 138,000 pounds. Other provinces in Canada have other length and weight limits.
Doepker manufactured about 450 in a variety of models of this B-train configuration. We suggest that a B-train should be counted as two trailers, and Doepker’s 450 B-trains should be counted as 900 trailers because each trailer has its own serial plate. This puts Doepker’s total trailer production in 2016 at 1,200.
Bill Schuler, VP sales of Doepker Industries, predicted a year ago that their 2016 trailer production would be down 30%. The actual number is 35% lower. His prediction for 2017 is that Doepker will manufacture between 1,400 to 1,500 units,
The optimistic prediction for 2017 is based on two factors. One is the overall trailer market outlook is more positive, and the other is that Doepker recently acquired another trailer manufacturer based out of Alberta, Canada. This manufacturer of heavy-haul trailers was acquired by Doepker in October 2016 and will increase their manufacturing and sales volume.
► Towmaster Trailers in Litchfield, Minnesota, built 1,060 heavy-duty truck-trailers in 2016, which is down 19% from the 1,301 produced in 2015. Towmaster also built 2,704 light-duty tag trailers with axles under 10,000 lb capacity, down 3%, and 195 truck bodies, up 1.5%
► Travis Body and Trailer of Houston built 937 aluminum dump trailers in 2016, a modest 3% gain over the preceding year. “We had a strong spring, but the summer slowdown didn’t end until after the election,” says Greg Smith, VP sales and marketing. The outlook for 2017 is a 5% to 10% increase, which would put Travis right at the 1,000 trailer mark.
Travis builds a full line of dump trailers, including end dumps, refuse transfer trailers, bottom dumps, rendering bodies, and specialty dump trailers.
► Talbert Manufacturing in Rensselaer, Indiana, built 826 heavy-haul trailers, a 5.5% improvement over the 783 built in 2015, according to Troy Geisler, VP sales and marketing.
► Tremcar Inc in Montreal, Canada, took a big hit from the downturn in the oil and gas sector. It built 805 tank trailers, down 34% from 2015. It also built 227 truck-mounted tanks (not counted in the trailer total), down 5%.
Daniel Tremblay, president of Tremcar, says they expect market growth of 15% to 20% for dry bulk trailers used to haul frac sand for drilling operations, while the outlook for tank trailers for the petroleum and food industries remains unchanged.
The company has two tank trailer plants in Canada located in Toronto and Montreal and one in the U. S. in Strasburg, Ohio. Its tank truck plant is in Malden, Massachusetts. ♦