Trailer industry feeling the boom

Article December 28, 2000
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The economy is booming, and the trailer business is booming right along with it. That’s what ROADS & BRIDGES found out when surveying sales executives of a nationwide cross-section of trailer makers.

“Our business has been wonderful,” said Norm Tweedy with the Dakota Manufacturing Co. line in Mitchell, S.D.

It’s beginning to look like 1999 will be a very good year indeed for the trailer business. But words of warning seem in order: It is dangerous to generalize about what is actually going on.

With more than 400 manufacturers turning out a staggering variety of trailers, some built to move 100-ton loads and others with 10,000-lb capacities, some coming from factories that turn out thousands a week and others coming from operations where a dozen units is a good week’s work, it must be understood that there is no such thing as a typical trailer maker.

If there is a trailer producer that is not enjoying increased sales this year, it didn’t show up in the survey.

At Landoll Trailer in Marysville, Kan., sales manager Jim Ladner was pointing with pride to the acceptance of powdered paint finishes on a diversified product line with capacities to 20 tons. High capacity models are leading the way for Aspen Trailers in Litchfield, Minn., according to Gary Smith.

With trailers serving as the work vehicle of choice in construction, agriculture and a wide range of service operations, it is probably no surprise that an almost infinite variety of trailers sell in some volume in the booming U.S. economy.

In Mitchell, S.D., where Tweedy reported a “wonderful” level of sales for the Dakota Manufacturing Co. trailer lines, they had two series of sliding-axle trailers in the spotlight earlier this year.

One offered a straight payload capacity of 40,000 lb. For loads able to take advantage of it, the second offered a capacity of 60,000 lb when the load was spread along the length of the trailer with weight in concentrated segments limited to 40,000 lb.

Readers of this magazine often use what are called “light” trailers to move small pieces of construction equipment to road and bridge projects or to handle service jobs in similar locations. Trailer people, however, don’t like the word “light,” thinking it implies inability to do real work. Using capacity ratings seems to be the trailer maker’s way to go when the subject is smaller trailers.

At Doonan Trailers in Great Bend, Kan., where “business has been extremely good,” they feel they are impressing customers by adding quality items to their products. One example is using high tensile strength steel more often.

Benson International in Mineral Wells, W.Va., reports some success already, working around a regular problem for trailer makers when business is good.

Power outlook cloudy

There are those who feel the world will come to an end in the year 2000. A case can be made that the truck industry, where as it exists today, will come close to a halt about two years later in the fall of 2002.

Starting in mid-1998, the top diesel engine producers and those who regulate the exhausts of their engines went to war. Regulators said producers cheated on qualifying their power plants’ emissions, while the engine makers said they didn’t. The entire matter got bogged down in the courts.

The feds rolled back the next tightening of diesel engine exhaust emission standards from 2004 until mid-2002, fined the engine makers millions and set about rewriting what will be the 2002 standards. Some observers said the hurry-up job of qualifying for the upcoming 2002 rules will cost more than the fines. At this point, just what the rules will be in 2002 is anyone’s guess.

Big truck engines developed in the recent past, such as Caterpillar’s 600 hp 3406E and the new ISM diesels from Cummins, appear to be floating in a form of limbo along with a number of other new offerings.

These chaotic developments, however, haven’t stopped engine makers from unveiling new products.

Freightliner and Caterpillar have announced a program under which a Cat engine which operates on a combination of diesel fuel and liquified natural gas will be installed in the Freightliner Century Class heavy-duty tractor.

Spring news from Volvo Trucks of North America included introduction of an advanced version of the VE D12C diesel engine, which was said to be “smarter” than its predecessors.

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