2020 closes on strong note with increase in net trailer orders for December

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Reefers at Loading Dock
Preliminary figures for December net trailer orders show notable improvements, both month over month and year over year. Analysts at ACT Research and FTR predict that momentum to continue in 2021.

COLUMBUS, Ind., and BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — According to preliminary reports from ACT Research and FTR, the U.S. trailer industry closed 2020 on a high note, with net orders up month over month as well as year over year.

ACT’s figures show 42,500 net orders for the month — a 7% increase from November and a leap of 140% from December 2019 orders. For the full year, an estimated net order volume of more than 288,000 trailers was 40% better than 2019. ACT’s final December figures will be available later this month.

“December activity closes a tumultuous year on a very solid up note. As has been the story throughout recent months, dry van demand continued to drive the market,” said Frank Maly, director of commercial vehicle analysis and research for ACT. “While October and November were the best two dry van order months in history, final stats will likely show December not far behind, ranking fifth best.”

FTR’s preliminary figures also show vibrant numbers for December’s preliminary U.S. net trailer orders at 41,700 units. FTR calculations show a 6% month-over-month increase in orders, and a 155% year-over-year increase. Total trailer orders for 2020 totaled 297,000.

“This is another great month for trailer orders. The last four months are very similar to the order surge in August-November 2018. These orders have boosted the backlogs after hitting a low point in July during the throes of the pandemic,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles for FTR. “Orders should begin falling in January if the 2019 trend repeats. However, there are enough orders in the backlog for a healthy production year.”

According to FTR’s calculations, order volume for the October-December 2020 was the highest ever for a fourth quarter. FTR analysts also note that fleets continue to order dry and refrigerated vans in hefty quantities for delivery throughout 2021. Consumer-oriented freight growth continues to rise and should continue, pushed by the second government stimulus. Vocational trailer orders are still recovering but should improve as manufacturing grows.

“Fleet optimism continues to gain momentum. Freight volumes are healthy and growing while the industry is still scrambling to handle the economic restart,” Ake noted. “The growth should continue as people get vaccinated and employment rises. I also expect manufacturing activity to intensify soon. This will lift industrial-oriented freight.”

ACT’s Maly also expressed optimism for the 2021 market, pointing to a resurgence during the second half of 2020.

“After rushing to the sidelines in the spring, fleets surged back into the market as the year proceeded, reacting to capacity challenges as well as higher freight rates. Those factors drove a dramatic shift in the short-to-medium term outlook for fleets, driving them to make aggressive investment commitments in the latter part of the year,” Maly stated. “Total industry backlog likely ended the year at more than 200,000 trailers, the best orderboard level since April 2019. At current production levels, many OEMs would well be fully-committed for 2021 production slots. However, OEMs will work to increase production levels as we move through the year, pulling that backlog horizon forward.”

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