Trailer orders continued to slide in May as OEMs catch up on building orders from last year. But with few signs that ordering will pick up again this year and a slowing economy, could it mean lower prices for fleets in the future?
ACT Research tracked 15,500 orders for the month, down 16% compared to April, but when order cancellations are factored in, net orders were closer to 10,500 units, down 28% from April. Compared to last year, trailer orders are down as much as 58% from May 2018 and are down 40% year to date.
While orders are down, backlogs are near record highs, with most of 2019’s build slots already filled as OEMs work to produce all of 2018’s orders.
“We’re now running into very difficult year-over-year comparisons, as OEMs are generally unwilling to accept orders for 2020,” said Frank Maly, director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis and research at ACT Research, in a release. “We hear that some OEMs may open their 2020 order boards in June; if so, expect better comparisons in the months ahead.”
While OEMs accepting more orders is expected to ease the decline, fluctuating economic conditions and uncertainty over tariffs may decrease the anticipated surge in orders, according to Maly.
In its own report on trailer orders, FTR said that production numbers are likely to moderate in the second half of the year due to expected slower economic growth and freight growth. The flatbed segment in particular was already showing signs of weakness because of a slowdown in manufacturing and industrial activity, which drives that segment of the trailer market.
Charles Willmott, a transportation industry analyst and principal CEO at WillGo Transportation Consulting, told HDT that at this point, a downturn in the trailer market is a near certainty and the only question is how serious it will be.
He said that the surge in trailer orders the past few years has caused OEMs to increase their production capabilities and with a decline back to average production levels or worse, there could be a serious shakeup in the market.
“I see the industry slowdown having a tremendous effect on the OEM landscape, with lower pricing and possible company failures,” he said.
One result of this slowdown, however, could be lower prices, despite increased costs for some OEMs due to the Chinese tariffs.
“Pricing will be more favorable to the carrier. More of a buyers’ market than in previous years,” he added.