Cancelations rise as trailer orders continue to stagnate

Trailer orders fell 71% in August compared to a record August a year ago. Fleets are still absorbing all of last year's orders. (Photo: NACFE)

Trailer orders fell 71% in August compared to a record August a year ago. Fleets are still absorbing all of last year's orders. (Photo: NACFE)

Story by FreightWaves’ Alan Adler

Orders for new trailers continued to stagnate in August as cancellations rose and backlogs of equipment in production queues fell.

FTR Transportation Intelligence reported final orders for August of 10,400. ACT Research pegged preliminary orders slightly higher at 10,500. Both numbers were about 70% below the 38,000 new trailer orders placed in August 2018.

When canceled orders are included, the net month-over-month gain was 2% compared to reported orders, said Frank Maly, ACT’s director of Commercial Vehicle Transportation Analysis and Research.

All three major categories — dry vans, refrigerated units and flatbeds — saw lower orders as dealers and fleets absorb record deliveries based on orders pulled ahead and placed in 2018. Trailer orders for the past 12 months total 300,200 units, according to FTR.

Dry van orders grew slightly in August but cancelations reduced the month-over-month gain. (Chart/ FreightWaves SONAR: Orders.Van )

Dry van orders grew slightly in August but cancelations reduced the month-over-month gain. (Chart/ FreightWaves SONAR: Orders.Van )

Backlogs fell for the eighth straight month and are now at their lowest level since late 2017, said Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles. However, trailer production stayed strong at near-record levels in August. 

“Trailer orders should begin to rise in September as a few fleets place orders for 2020,” Ake said. Orders should significantly improve in October and months following as the market returns to traditional ordering patterns, he said, adding that flatbed and dump trailer sales will suffer from weakness in the industrial sector.

ACT’s Maly said August orders should have been higher because order boards for 2020 were open, but “fleets and dealers are still reassessing their true equipment needs for the remainder of this year.

“On a seasonally adjusted basis, net orders actually declined 14% from July,” Maly said. That reflects economic uncertainty, lower freight volumes and rates, as well as tariff concerns, he said.

Trailers ordered now typically would be delivered in mid-January 2020, though some build slots are available in the fourth quarter, Maly said.