The freight transportation forecast firm FTR reports that preliminary trailer orders for December were the lowest since August, at 16,500 units.
December trailer orders were down 17 percent month-over-month and down 41 percent year-over-year. Trailer orders for 2019 totaled 203,000 units.
Fleets are displaying the same caution on trailers as they are showing in their Class 8 order activity. The large carriers are being careful with their ordering strategy by placing smaller orders with shorter lead times than is typical at the end of a calendar year.
A great deal of uncertainty exists at the start of 2020 due to a weaker manufacturing segment, the drag of tariffs, and a tumultuous political situation.
Buyer nervousness is expected to increase throughout the year due to the upcoming election and conflict in the Middle East, FTR says.
“Freight is forecast to grow only about 1 percent this year, putting little pressure on fleets to boost trailer capacity as they did the last few years," said Don Ake, FTR's VP 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," Ake said. "Van trailers sales, spurred by strong consumer spending, are still doing better than the vocational segments.
"Trailer orders should stay in the 20,000-unit-a-month range for a while, as fleets continue to carefully match orders with short-term demand," Ake said. "Eventually, the manufacturing sector should recover, generating more orders for flatbed and dump trailers.”