After plummeting in April, trailer orders have outperformed 2019 this year.

After plummeting in April, trailer orders have outperformed 2019 this year.

Graph: FTR

November trailer orders were down from October but still double the same time last year, according to numbers from industry analysts FTR and ACT Research.

FTR reported final numbers at 41,400 units, as fleets continue to lock up build slots well into 2021.

While November was down 26% month over month, FTR said, that comparison was against a huge October and was up 107% year over year. The order total for September-November was the second-highest three-month period ever, according to FTR, with trailer orders for the last 12 months now at 270,700 units.

After plummeting to a 30-year-low in April, the trailer industry has now had six consecutive months with solid year-over-year gains in orders, said ACT, which predicted that November will likely rank in the industry’s top 10 months.

“While November orders were down sequentially versus October, that matches the order pattern for last year,” said Frank Maly, ACT director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis and research. “Remember that October was the third-best net order month in history, so that set up a tough comparison for the industry.”

He explained that fleets pulled ahead order timing, concerned about the availability and timing of production slots in 2021. “Since existing backlog extends to nearly the end of third quarter 2021 at current production rates, fleets pulled their order timing forward this year, resulting in the October volume peak.”

Dry van orders backed off recent record highs but remained substantial, FTR said, while refrigerated van orders were lofty for the third straight month. Flatbed orders finally started to recover after an extended dry spell, hitting the highest volume since January 2019.

Dry vans have been the foundation of the recent order surge, according to Maly, and that pattern continued during November. “While more than twice the pace of last November, dry van orders appear to be roughly two-thirds of October’s level,” he said.

Booming Freight Market Means Money to Spend

Both FTR and ACT said fleets are doing well and expect that to continue next year.

“There is growing optimism by the fleets of a vibrant freight market in 2021,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “Strong freight growth is constraining capacity, fueling the need for additional trailers.

The dry van segment continues to show robust strength, Ake said, and more trailers are needed to handle the fast, multiple moves of consumer goods ordered through e-commerce.

FTR’s Ake and ACT’s Maly both pointed out that right now, fleets have money to spend.

“Fleet profitability remains high due to a bright rate environment,” Ake said. “This means fleets can replace older trailers and it reduces the risk of expanding capacity.”

Maly said that robust freight rates and solid fleet financial expectations mean “fleets have both the need and ability to invest in equipment.”

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