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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Don't be surprised if the players in Canada's trailer game show up one day in a future Don Cherry video: They're all willing and able to 'shoulder the load' and they definitely spe...

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Don’t be surprised if the players in Canada’s trailer game show up one day in a future Don Cherry video: They’re all willing and able to ‘shoulder the load’ and they definitely spend a lot of time around the box.

A market highlighted by a flurry of acquisitions, new products, expanded dealer networks and even new plant construction, the downturn and cutbacks seen by North American truck builders haven’t hit the folks building trailers quite so hard.

Charles Dutil, executive vice-president of Manac, says he doesn’t think the negative sales trends will migrate over to his side of the industry to the extent they’ve hurt the truck market.

“I think the outlook will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer,” he explains. “The order of the day is having a really good market presence. There are enough deals going down everyday, we need to be aggressive and increase our market share.”

Manac has been very busy trying to live up to this strategy. On the product side, last fall the company introduced two new units at Truck World 2000 in Toronto: the All Aluminum Flatbed and the Combo Plate Van.

“Their introduction was not into a boom period, but they’ve received a good reception. They’re going about as expected,” says Dutil. “This year we’ll introduce some refinements to our post and plate van as well as to our regular flatbed.”

The introduction of new products is just one element in Manac’s current plan of attack facing the economic conditions of the day. It recently acquired Trois-Rivieres- based Fabrex from a subsidiary of RailAmerica. Dutil explains two key advantages of the deal.

“Acquiring their manufacturing facility and knowledge of aluminum,” he says will prove invaluable with the earlier introduction of the all aluminum flatbed in mind. On the other side of the equation, the Fabrex line – aluminum and steel dumps as well as refuse trailers – will suddenly have access to stronger buying power, better knowledge of mechanical assemblies and improved market range.

“Over the last few years, Fabrex had not sold any units in Ontario,” says Dutil. “We’ve already got some deals now and there are more in the works.”

Expanding operations in Ontario is key as far as Manac is concerned.

“We’ve opened up our new location in Mississauga, Ont.,” he explains, “it offers sales and service with five bays on 6.7 acres off Derry and Kennedy.”

Dutil insists the new facility represents, “the next logical evolution” in the company’s Ontario presence.

“We opened up Orangeville in ’94 and a small sales and service location in ’95; now we’ve outgrown it,” he says. “Our market share has grown year after year – it’s just one more step and we’ve got more coming.”

One such step will be a new sales location west of Toronto. The company has purchased land in the Kitchener/Waterloo area and plans to set up shop there soon.

“We need a market presence there,” he says, adding that building off the 30 years of experience Manac has in supplying semi trailers to the Canadian trucking industry will serve it well entering the region.

“We know the loads, we know the roads,” says Dutil. “We’ve got engineers and technical staff traveling (Canadian routes) everyday.”

Trailmobile Canada trumpets similar advantages to its line of products based on its understanding of the Canadian market.

“We encompassed certain aspects of Canadian design and capitalized and developed a Canadian product for the Canadian market,” says Burt Clay, vice-president of sales and marketing with Trailmobile Canada, in explaining what happened after Trailmobile purchased his former employer and longtime canuck trailer manufacturer Mond. “These were features like galvanized door frames, bolt on bumpers, heavier upper couplers for the heavier weight loads and solid oak floors.”

Clay says the company is well positioned to significantly grow its market share over the coming months. One reason for this optimism, he insists is the company’s continued commitment to bringing new trailer solutions to market.

“This fall we launched our Advantage trailer and we’ve now introduced two additional models to that,” says Clay. The Advantage 100.5 was designed for multi-stacking heavier, concentrated hauls – such as paper. The other new offering, the Advantage Plus, features 101 inches from the floor to the roof of the trailer for can-hauls, as well as ultra-high cube capacity.

“They’ve been designed to compete against high-cube, plate trailers,” he says. “We offer a post and panel construction with the same inside (size).”

He explains plate trailers can occasionally balloon or billow over time, which is an issue solved by the sectional design of Trailmobile’s Advantage products.

“From the operations standpoint, the company has invested well over $12 million in Canada,” says Clay.

He adds the company is on target for ISO certification, which should be finalized by October. Trailmobile says that, while it is happy with the performance of its six branches and five dealer locations, it plans to expand into secondary Canadian markets. “We’ll have two or three new locations to announce by the end of the year,” says Clay.

One manufacturer looking to establish similarly deep ties to the Canadian marketplace is Great Dane Trailers. In November, 2000 the Georgia-based company officially turned sod on what will be its first plant outside the U.S. Located in Quinte West, Ont. (formerly Trenton), construction of the facility is under the direction of Rick Mullininx, vice-president of manufacturing and engineering for Great Dane.

“The project is out for bid … bids are due in toward the end of February,” he says. “We’re hoping for occupancy in early ’02.”

Mullininx says the process of finalizing plans and getting in touch with contractors is moving as expected and construction crews will begin work this summer.

“The plant will have two assembly lines and produce a dry van and refrigerated trailers,” he adds. “The total area will be about 300,000 sq. ft.”

Capacity at the facility is eventually expected to top out at about 6,000 units annually, with some of those being a uniquely Canadian reefer design. The new model would incorporate elements of both the SuperSeal and the Classic reefers already offered by the company.

It would be a durable yet lightweight design that still offers a great deal of flexibility to the user. At the same time, the unit would shed 500lb. as compared to its predecessors, which allows for increased payload or improved fuel efficiency for truckload carriers often cubing out.

The company’s closest Canadian dealer to the plant, Glasvan Great Dane, can’t wait to get a domestic source for its stock. Coupled with the new designs, Glasvan promises its customers will notice the improvements right away.

Wabash National, another giant among the American trailer manufacturing community, has been on a dynamic path lately in Canada, as well. While the company still has Train Trailer inked to an Ontario dealership agreement, it also recently purchased the Breadner Group for an undisclosed amount.

The 10 locations scattered across six provinces certainly improve Wabash’s northern presence and give it a much more aggressive position in this market. At the time of the Breadner deal, the company said it also plans to introduce some new designs for Canadian fleets in the near future. The new canuck models are expected to combine increased durability with lighter weights.

While another, relatively new player on the Canadian scene says it doesn’t have plans to expand its offering in Canada, the carriage of Hyundai Precision America has benefited from the aggressive position taken by what is now its lone outlet north of the 49th. Fort Gary Industries has been expanding at a furious pace.

The addition of its new Red Deer, Alta. facility gives the authorized Hyundai dealer 14 locations – including complete market coverage in the trucking hotbed that is the province of Alberta.

Charles Henry, a spokesman for Hyundai, stresses the company has the products to compete with anyone else on the road.

“We’ve got a good reefe
r and several different van configurations,” says Henry. He adds the competitive nature of the market has the company making several new product introductions in the coming months.

“There’s our new plate trailer that answers a lot of the problems associated with these trailers,” he says. “It is a very different design.”

Hyundai’s new plate model features corrugation running through most of the side plates. The added strength virtually eliminates the problem of ballooning.

These intensely competitive manufactures guarantee three things: the Canadian trailer market is a critical battle; there are healthy deals to be cut; and they’re all willing to fight for more than their share of them. n

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