FTR said trailer orders in December remained vibrant for the fourth consecutive month. - Graph: FTR

FTR said trailer orders in December remained vibrant for the fourth consecutive month.

Graph: FTR

More than 40,000 new trailers were ordered in December of 2020, continuing a four-month trend of vibrant sales for the trucking industry market segment.

Both FTR and ACT Research, transportation industry research firms, report similar preliminary trailer order numbers for the final month of 2020.

FTR reported that preliminary U.S. net trailer orders remained vibrant for the fourth consecutive month, totaling 41,700 units in December. Order activity was up 6% month-to-month and 155% year-to-year.

Total trailer orders for 2020 totaled 297,000, according to FTR.

Analyzing the December results, FTR concluded that the order volume for October through December was the highest ever for a fourth quarter. Fleets continue to order dry and refrigerated vans in hefty quantities for delivery throughout 2021. Consumer-oriented freight growth continues to rise and should continue, pushed by the second government stimulus. Vocational trailer orders are still recovering but should improve as manufacturing grows. 

“This is another great month for trailer orders," said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles, in a news release. "The last four months are very similar to the order surge in August-November 2018. These orders have boosted the backlogs, [which hit] a low point in July during the throes of the pandemic."

Ake predicted that orders will begin falling in January if the 2019 trend repeats – but there are already enough orders in the backlog for a healthy production year. 

"Fleet optimism continues to gain momentum. Freight volumes are healthy and growing while the industry is still scrambling to handle the economic restart," Ake said. "The growth should continue as people get vaccinated and employment rises. I also expect manufacturing activity to intensify soon. This will lift industrial-oriented freight.”

ACT Research reported that the U.S. trailer industry booked 42,500 net orders for the final month of 2020 - Chart: ACT Research

ACT Research reported that the U.S. trailer industry booked 42,500 net orders for the final month of 2020

Chart: ACT Research

Similarly, ACT Research reported that the industry booked 42,500 net orders for the final month of 2020. According to ACT Research analysts, that was 7% better than November and 140% above year-ago levels. For the full year, ACT Research said estimated net order volume of more than 288,000 trailers was 40% better than 2019.

“December activity closes a tumultuous year on a very solid up note," said Frank Maly, ACT director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis and research. “As has been the story throughout recent months, dry van demand continued to drive the market. While October and November were the best two dry van order months in history, final stats will likely show December not far behind, ranking fifth best.

"After rushing to the sidelines in the spring, fleets surged back into the market as the year proceeded, reacting to capacity challenges as well as higher freight rates. Those factors drove a dramatic shift in the short- to medium-term outlook for fleets, driving them to make aggressive investment commitments in the latter part of the year.”

He also noted that industry backlog likely ended the year at more than 200,000 trailers, the best orderboard level since April 2019. At current production levels, many OEMs could well be fully committed for 2021 production slots, he said, but predicted OEMs will work to increase production levels as we move through the year.

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