Preliminary reports indicate trailer orders for December were down from the previous month and significantly down from the same time last year, according to ACT Research and FTR estimates.
According to FTR, trailer orders for December were the lowest since August at 16,500 units – down 17% month over month and 41% year over year. ACT reported trailer net orders of more than 17,000 trailers; although a slightly higher estimate than FTR's, it was still a decline of 13% from November and was 37% below December a year ago.
FTR said fleet buying habits for trailers are mirroring the same caution as they are showing in their Class 8 order activity. Large carriers are placing smaller orders with shorter lead times than is typical at the end of a calendar year. A weaker manufacturing segment, the effect of tariffs, and the current uneasy political landscape are causing a great deal of uncertainty at the beginning of the new decade, according to FTR.
“Freight is forecast to grow only about 1% this year, putting little pressure on fleets to boost trailer capacity as they did the last few years,” said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. “However, total freight levels remain elevated and trailer production for 2020, although down significantly from 2019’s record year, is forecast to be good from a historical perspective. Fleets are expected to continue to replace old trailers based on their standard trade-in cycles. Van trailer sales, spurred by strong consumer spending, are still doing better than the vocational segments.”
ACT said the year closed on “a disappointing note,” with fleets maintaining a conservative outlook toward 2020 in terms of capital investment. Backlog declined in 11 months of 2019, with October being the only exception to that trend.
“The year-end orderboard sets a very soft foundation for OEMs for the new year, as OEMs seek to better balance their production volumes to their existing orderboards,” said Frank Maly, director of commercial vehicle transportation analysis and research at ACT Research. “Preliminary information indicates that production was reduced in December, the result of both holiday schedules and a reaction to the contracting orderboard. We will watch levels in Q1’20 closely to see if OEMs have brought their efforts into better balance.”