If you could write a headline for the trailer market in 2018, it would get across some version of the sentiment, “Business is booming.” But what about 2019? How can you compare any year to one of the best in history when anything else seems anemic by comparison?
Last year, the trailer market, and trucking in general, saw new peaks in equipment buying and usage as fleets worked to add capacity and meet demand. But that peak in 2018 has been followed by a distinct drop-off.
David Giesen, vice president of sales for Stoughton Trailers, called the downward trend a period of uncertainty – but one that he is cautiously optimistic about. Giesen says in some ways, the drop in orders is just the industry getting back to normal.
Capacity has caught up to demand and the average age of fleet has come down considerably. With fleets caught up, orders are going to decline, regardless of the state of trucking as a whole, say trailer makers.
What does this mean for fleets?
A slowdown in orders has potential impacts for fleets, including possible lower prices and upcoming advances in trailer technology.
Last year’s boom in the trailer market coincided with increased tariffs on materials that meant higher costs to manufacturers – and higher prices for buyers. But with a nearly saturated market for trailers and further slowdown imminent, trailer makers may be pressured to reduce prices anyway.
“Pricing will be more favorable to the carrier – more of a buyer’s market than in previous years,” says Charles Willmott, a 30-year veteran of the trailer industry who’s now a transportation market analyst and principal of WillGo Transportation Consulting.
Willmott says that while tariffs did raise real costs for manufacturers, with reduced demand all OEMs will have to bring down prices despite those costs. He see’s tough times ahead for a crowded trailer market that could lead to some company failures.
East Manufacturing President and CEO Dave de Poincy acknowledges the likelihood of a significant downturn but says, “It’s not all bad – there’s a positive side to it.”
“With a downturn, that gives you time to work on new initiatives.” He says his company will need to work on cost reductions and becoming more diverse, finding other types of products to build or segments to target.
The tougher market also could favor trailer makers that foster brand loyalty with carriers which could become a real asset in the toughest times.
Look for new technology
One possible avenue for change could be coming in materials. Some OEMs are looking at composite plate panel designs, which can be easier to work with and lighter in weight than traditional aluminum sheet-and-post designs. Another shift being explored is in the use of fiberglass for dry van and insulated trailers.
The designs have the potential to reshape the future of multiple trailer types. Once too expensive, fiberglass materials are now cheaper and more scalable. They’re lighter and better insulators than traditional materials, he says, and by some measures they can be just as durable.
They can also be prefabricated, and the ingredients can be tweaked to change the temperature control quality of the trailer, simplifying trailer production.
Couple that with an upcoming revolution in trailer telematics offerings that promises to offer fleets unprecedented control and management of their assets, and today’s trailer market may well be on the cusp of significant change.
“We will see more change in the next five years in this industry than we have in the last 50,” Willmott predicts. “By the time we get out there five years from now, what customers are buying won’t look anything like today.”
We asked trailer makers to share some of their most significant announcements of the past year, which you’ll find on the following pages.
For 2019, East Manufacturing is highlighting products that improve corrosion resistance and reduce weight. East is using high-density polyethylene plastic in conjunction with Eck Corrosion Prevention Coating during assembly for all its trailers.
The HDPE is die-cut to match areas covered, then both sides are coated with Eck, which can prevent electrolytic reactions between aluminum and steel and other dissimilar materials that can cause corrosion. It does this by sealing out moisture, adding a barrier between the metals, plus zinc powder that absorb natural corrosive energy.
The company is also working to reduce the tare weight of its trailers using lighter alloys and extrusion design. The company is using Truck-Lite 99 Series wiring harness as standard on all new East BST, BST II, MMXTM and Narrow Neck flatbed trailers. It also uses Alcoa Ultra One lightweight wheels as standard.
The Jost International AX150 Alumilight Series of landing gear is standard on all flatbed and dropdeck trailers, saving up to 50 pounds over competitive landing gear. The company also made aluminum air tanks standard on its flatbed trailers, saving 10.7 pounds of weight per tank compared to steel tanks.
Fontaine Heavy Haul’s Renegade LXLN12 is a new lowbed trailer that features a 12-inch loaded deck and maintains 2 inches of ground clearance. The trailer is designed for light weight and strength, and can handle 30 tons in 16 feet or 30 tons in 20 feet with the addition of an optional flip axle.
With nearly 33 feet of open deck and 53 feet in overall length, the LXLN12 weighs 20,525 pounds. The core of the trailer is its engineered box beam design that features full-width crossmembers on 18-inch centers. The design gives the trailer better torsional stability to prevent twisting and improves pulling and tracking capabilities.
Fontaine’s Infinity Forklift Trailer is a new combo trailer designed for forklift applications. The trailer is equipped with a RASR side rail made from routed aluminum and designed to withstand a forklift impact. A fold-away bumper makes it easier to stow and deploy a forklift. Special mounting hardware makes the trailer versatile enough to accommodate multiple forklift brands.
Steel counterbalance is built into the floor at the front of the trailer to compensate for mounted forklift weight when returning empty, and the weight can be matched to a specific forklift model. An electrical connection can be used to power the lights on the rear-mounted forklift when traveling.
On the company’s Revolution all-aluminum trailer, Fontaine is making use of StirLite friction stir welding. Friction stir welding is used in the aerospace industry to build aircraft wings without adding material weight. The StirLite welding process helps improve the rigidity of the Revolution trailer to increase road stability, resulting in less tire wear and improved fuel mileage.
Great Dane will launch its FleetPulse telematics system later this year. The FleetPulse system is designed to tell users exactly what’s happening on every trailer in their fleets. Built-in sensors collect precise measurements directly from the trailer’s components, tracking key indicators such as GPS location, tire inflation, open doors, loaded weight, burned-out lights, ABS fault codes and actual mileage.
“FleetPulse helps keep fleets healthy and freight moving with data and insights from our comprehensive trailer monitoring system,” says Chris Lee, Great Dane’s vice president of engineering. “The system keeps fleet managers informed about critical trailer information. So, if action is needed to protect cargo, safety or your bottom line, you’ll know, and our nationwide network of service centers are there to help solve any issues.”
Heil is highlighting its latest five-axle petroleum trailer, the result of a collaboration between the company and its dealer Semi Service to design a trailer with greater hauling capacity for Sinclair Oil.
An option to the standard four-axle with an 11,500-gallon capacity, the five-axle trailer has a 12,000-gallon capacity and was made with aluminum components to help minimize tare weight. It also features an aerodynamic design that, when coupled with the lighter weight, can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 8%, according to Heil.
The trailer also has a lower center of gravity to improve rollover stability and increase payload by as much as 6%.
The HT ThermoTech Trailer from Hyundai Translead is a new refrigerated trailer that offers greater durability, lighter weight, and increased thermal efficiency. Additionally, the refrigerated trailer was designed to comply with new regulations that require trailers to maintain temperature more efficiently.
The company worked to minimize the effects of heat transmission by improving structural designs to reduce the transfer of heat through the insulation. The insulated panels are able to include more insulating material in some cases. The trailer was also designed to prevent moisture intrusion so it can maintain efficiency longer. Joints and closures were eliminated or improved to be less dependent on caulking and sealants. Primers and bonding techniques are incorporated in the manufacturing process to assure the integrity of laminations between sheet materials. Preventing bonding separation between the outer skins and the insulation will discourage water gain due to condensation.
The deck now uses taller, stiffer structures to support the floor surface. Heavy-duty aluminum floor extrusions fit together with a mechanical lock to take stress off the welded joints, and the new fully automated welding fixture lays down a weld-bead of greater mass for additional strength. All wood structures within the deck were removed and replaced with materials that will not absorb moisture. The combination of material choice and design allowed 13% greater floor ratings with no weight addition, according to Hyundai Translead.
Kalyn Siebert began producing its new Divide Versa-Deck trailer for oilfield and other applications this year. The VersaDeck is a 40-ton, two-axle, 48-foot step-deck trailer that can haul any brand sandbox around oilfield locations, according to Kalyn Siebert.
The VersaDeck trailer is designed for versatility just like the company’s VersaMaxx and Divide Versa-Maxx-EXT trailers, and can be configured for general freight, cargo, oilfield pipe and other applications. The VersaDeck is also engineered for strength while maintaining low tare weights and is structurally designed to withstand years of off-road drill site usage with low maintenance and long service life.
The Sanitary 3-A trailer is the latest design from Polar Tank to transport food grade products. The Sanitary 3-A is designed for lighter weight so customers can haul more per trip, improving revenue per load.
A two-piece barrel design with a rigid welded barrel and subframe provides improved strength. Polar Tank says it also uses the widest sheet metal possible, which means only one circumferential seam for the length of the barrel.
The Sanitary 3-A Trailer features Hendrickson-manufactured stainless steel suspension brackets that eliminate paint and rust and are lightweight, strong and corrosion-resistant. For less maintenance and lower cost of ownership, Polar Tank says, the trailer doesn’t require barrel/strap tightening.
The trailer’s low profile, with a center of gravity lower than the frame/cradle, improves safety and driveability. The trailer reduces the possibility of rollover, improves handling, increases aerodynamics and lowers the outlet valve for easier hook-up.
Stoughton’s PureBlue Refrigerated Trailer is now being offered with two exterior sidewall options, as a new corrugated sidewall option joins the previous flat-panel sidewall. On both designs, Stoughton uses a platen foaming insulation process for better thermal efficiency in the sidewalls as well as in the ceiling, front wall, doors and floor.
The insulation process occurs before the trailer is assembled. After assembly, all connections are separately foamed to ensure an airtight seal. Both sidewall options provide bonded side posts in the intermediate area between the 4-foot panel-to-panel connections to increase thermal efficiency and ensure a smoother wall surface. The bonded side posts stabilize the inner liner between panel-to-panel connections and reduce the number of rivets on the sidewall. The reduced number of rivets inhibits heat flow, prevents water intrusion, and provides a better surface for graphics, according to Stoughton.
The company has also updated its Z-Plate and aluminum sheet-and-post dry van trailers to reduce maintenance and improve durability. The trailers are now offered with an optional lightweight, bonded composite front wall liner to improve durability and reduce weight. Later in 2019, Stoughton will also offer bonded nosebox, placard and manifest boxes. The standard nosebox, placard and manifest boxes will be bonded instead of riveted to reduce potential water infiltration.
Strick Trailers introduced its Fiberglass Reinforced Composite dry van trailer this year, offering it in a variety of sizes and specs. It is available in any combination, from 28-foot pups to 60-foot linehaul trailers, and offers optional features such as e-track, various cargo control systems, and enhanced insulation.
The FRC sidewall panels are seamless to prevent snags, and are pultruded with a moisture-resistant core. The hydrophobic characteristics prevent wicking to eliminate water intrusion or weight gain and are protected from rust or corrosion.
Strick also released the GardX rear impact guard, which is being made standard on all its long van trailers. Strick’s impact guard has a four-vertical-member design and is combined with a revamped understructure of the rear of the trailer. It adds minimal weight to the trailer and can simplify post-incident repairs to reduce costs.
Utility Trailer Manufacturing
Late last year, Utility Trailer introduced its Utility Aerodynamic Tail, which cuts down on drag to improve fuel economy. When paired with low-rolling-resistance tires and configured on a Utility dry van or reefer, the combination of the UAT with a side skirt is designed to improve fuel efficiency.
Weighing 25 pounds and compatible on dry vans and refrigerated trailers with rear swing doors, the Utility Aerodynamic Tail is constructed of a UV-protected thermoplastic composite and comprised of two full height side fairings and one full width roof fairing.
The side fairings are connected to the rear swing doors. Using standard opening procedures for the rear swing doors, the UAT automatically deploys when the doors are closed and folds back when the doors are open with no additional driver involvement necessary. The roof fairing does not interfere with lock rods or rear light areas and meets all DOT photometric requirements.
A 20K Duct Floor System is now the standard floor on Utility Trailer’s 3000R base model refrigerated trailer. It features a 20,000-pound floor rating capacity for fork trucks with 12-inch wide front tires. The aluminum duct floor planks have 30% more upper wear thickness than Utility’s prior 16K standard floor to increase service life all while maintaining the 3000R’s light weight because the floor requires no other structural enhancements.
Wabash National recently reduced the base weight of its DuraPlate HD dry van by 300 pounds. The dry van’s sidewalls are now constructed with DuraPlate Cell Core composite panels to increase payload capacity. The composite panel technology features cellular structures in the core material to remove weight while providing the same performance characteristics as conventional DuraPlate. DuraPlate HD comes standard with a 20,000-pound floor rating and a 22-inch-high aluminum base plate in the lower sidewall. Wabash also expanded customer load securement options on its Benson and Transcraft brand platform trailers, incorporating an integrated winch track side rail and 4-inch Lock Rite tie-down system. The company is currently testing its molded structural composite (MSC) reefer showing 15-30% improvements in thermal efficiency over traditional designs. The composite floor now has a verified load rating of 24,000 pounds per TTMA RP-37.