Specialty Trailers Shine as Van and Reefer Orders Lag

Specialty Trailers Shine as Van and Reefer Orders Lag

While orders for specialty trailers like tankers and flatbeds rose in October, dry van and refrigerated trailer orders continued to lag, according to data from industry researchers FTR Transportation Intelligence and ACT Research. This dichotomy illustrates the complex equipment demands across trailer types.

Backlogs Grow but Remain in Line Historically

FTR reported that October net orders for trailers in the US increased by over 6,000 units versus September to 34,400 units – the highest level since December 2022. However, orders remained down 21% year-over-year. Increased production in October meant that backlogs rose for the second straight month, occurring only twice this year.

FTR Chairman Eric Starks noted that order jumps for specialized trailers outpaced those for dry vans and refrigerated vans. Industry backlogs compared to production are in line historically, benefiting current build rates. But the backlog-to-production ratios for dry vans and reefers stay high, supporting ongoing manufacturing.

Specialty Trailer Ratios Could Prompt Cuts

Lower backlog-to-production ratios among specialty trailers like tankers and flatbeds could lead builders to cut output for those segments in the future, Starks projected.

Cancellations Remain High Despite Backlog Levels

ACT Research’s preliminary October trailer order estimate of 35,300 units points to a backlog expansion of about 7,300 orders. Jennifer McNealy, ACT’s director of commercial vehicle market research, said October marked two straight months of positive momentum for trailer builders. However, elevated cancellation rates, especially for platforms and tanks, temper optimism despite healthy backlogs overall and especially for specialties.

McNealy said two strong order months do not guarantee a robust full year in 2023. More order data is needed entering the new year ordering season to determine if the industry can sustain this recovery. With cancellations and other mixed signals, it remains uncertain whether the trailer industry has turned the corner.

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