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Trailer demand surges to record highs

lineup of dry van trailers
2023 is starting off on solid footing even as the macro uncertainty remains extremely elevated.

Net U.S. trailer orders reached 57,300 units last month – nearly 46% higher than November, 115% above December 2021 and the second highest month in 27 years, according to ACT Research. 

"From this standpoint, 2022 went out like a lion,"  said Jennifer McNealy, director of commercial vehicle market research and publications at ACT Research. “The year closed with 361,500 net orders placed, exceeding the previous year’s 249,400 level. Approximately 306,000 trailers were built in 2022, and our projections point to a continuation of that upward trend into 2023.”

Discussions with OEMs over the last 30 days indicate the 2023 order book is still not yet fully open, despite OEMs expanding availability, McNealy said.

"Supply-chain concerns still linger, with some manufacturers sharing that the situation for some parts has actually deteriorated and they see no short-term improvement in sight,” she said. "Regarding demand, most trailer makers continue to see demand exceeding capacity through the end of 2023; although, some have mentioned an erosion in confidence, but are also quick to note that this hasn’t appeared in the form of cancellations.”

Trailer backlog levels are back above 200,000 units, increasing by another 17% last month, according to FTR, due to the surge in orders. December build was down another 8% month-over-month (attributable to downtime) but was up 17% year-over-year. Lower build and a jump in end-of-year factory shipments caused the inventory levels to drop by 18% month-over-month, according to FTR.

Citing an ongoing moderation of Class 8 orders, FTR's Chief Executive Officer and Chief Intelligence Officer Jonathan Starks said the surge in orders is unlikely to be sustained going forward. 

"However, we have now seen more than 347,000 orders placed over the last 12 months, and backlogs are at their highest level in nearly two years," he added. "2023 is starting on solid footing even as the macro uncertainty remains extremely elevated.”