A robust economy, trade expansion, accelerating manufacturing activity, strong consumer spending, and high levels of construction activity have kept trailer demand at relatively high levels, according to Economic Planning Associates.

The company's latest survey of trailer manufacturers puts third quarter 1999 shipments at about 76,300 units, 10.5% higher than third quarter 1998. Cumulative data shows shipments for the first three quarters running about 10.4% above the same period last year.
"Vans continue to score far more impressive gains than non-vans," EPA said. Shipments of dry freight, insulated, drop frame and other vans totaled 58,900 in third quarter, up 13.1% from second quarter. Total for the three quarters is 178,000 units, up 12.2% from the same period last year.
Non-vans sales showed a "distinct softening." Third quarter sales were 17,350, up 2.6% from second quarter. Shipments for the three quarters totaled 52,690, up 4.6% from the same period last year.
Even with anticipated slowing in total trailer demand the end of the year, 1999 shipments are projected to reach about 302,000 units, up 7.7% from last year's record.
EPA researchers see some slowdown ahead, particularly in light of the very strong sales levels from 1997 through 1999. The constuction sector is showing signs of slowing, corporate profit growth is plateauing, fuel prices are up, and intermodal is expanding, they noted. EPA also expects consumer spending to slow significantly next year "which would take some steam out of the recent strong growth in truck traffic related to consumer goods."
However stronger export activities should offset declines in consumer spending. Construction activities will slow but still remain at relatively high levels. "the aggressive nature ofthe current highway bill should sustain trucking volume in that sector," EPA said. Continued expansion of the U.S., Canadian and Mexican economies should increase NAFTA traffic -- another plus for trucking.
As a result, EPA is forecasting only moderate easing in trailer shipments next year as major fleets absorb and rationalize the huge amount of new equipment brought into the system in recent years.
Intermodal activity is up about 2.7% this year and expected to advance 3.4% next year. Shipments of intermodal chassis have been strong all year and were up 17.8% in the third quarter. Shipments of containers were lackluster in the first half but rose 21.2% in third quarter. EPA projects sales of 27,000 containers and chassis this year, a 29.8% increase over last year.
For more information contact Economic Planning Associates, (516) 864-4933.