Over the past two years, the North American trailer market has been on fire as carriers have rushed to replenish aging equipment that has passed its best-before date. In the van and reefer segments especially, underbuying through the lean years of 2008-2010 meant trailers were worked harder and longer than what was originally intended, which has driven the unprecedented demand seen this year and last.
Order backlogs in some segments have reached six months or more, meaning fleets have to be more forward-thinking in terms of their renewal strategies. We spoke to Canadian trailer dealers about the trends they’re seeing in the marketplace and found seven themes that came up again and again.
Trailers, trailers…Who’s got trailers?
Unprecedented demand for new trailers over the past couple years has extended lead times for new orders and sent many fleets looking to the used market to fill their immediate needs. As a result, well-spec’d used trailers in good condition are as difficult to obtain as Blue Jays playoff tickets and are currently priced at a premium.
“It’s easy to get used trailers if you’re willing to pay big money,” says George Cobham Jr., vice-president of sales and marketing with Glasvan Trailers. “People are hanging onto their trailers longer now because of the cost of new trailers and the exchange rate, so the supply of used trailers is less than it was four to five years ago. If you hunt around you may find what you’re looking for but definitely expect to pay a premium.”
Nick Lambevski, president of Transport Trailer Sales, agrees. “Used trailer values are still high and good late-
model equipment is still very difficult to get and there’s still a lot of stuff going down to the US.”
New trailers are more expensive, too
The strength of the US dollar relative to the Canadian loonie is driving up the cost of new trailers as well. Even Canadian-based manufacturers such as Manac are not completely insulated against the effect of the exchange rate.
“About 70% of the components we use to build the trailers – whether it be suspensions, tires or some of the raw materials – are priced in US dollars, so we do have to pass that back on to the customers,” explains Tom Ramsden, vice-
president of sales with Manac.
However, since labour costs for trailers built in Canadian facilities are not affected by the exchange rate, there is some advantage to buying Canadian, Ramsden adds.
“We’ve actually started moving more product back up into Canada to service the Canadian market, that we typically used to build in our US facilities over the years,” he says. “It has allowed us to offer additional savings to help customers not realize the full impact of the increase in the exchange rate.”
All kinds of aero
In terms of spec’s, customers are increasingly looking for accessories that will improve fuel economy. Options such as trailer side skirts have become mainstream in van applications.
“Fleets are looking at every detail of their spec’ as to how it will affect their operating costs,” Cobham says. “When it comes to aerodynamic devices, we’re definitely seeing heightened fleet attention on trailer tails. We’re seeing more fleets adopt the trailer tails and the one that they all seem to be paying attention to is the ATDynamics Trident model.”
Some fleets, Cobham says, are equipping trailers with tails as a way to attract and retain owner/operators, since their earning potential is greater when pulling aero trailers.
He also says trailer undertray devices are receiving some attention, especially in applications where side skirts can get hung up.
“The undertray is nice because it maintains a more traditional look to the trailer,” Cobham says. “Skirts can make it difficult to access things like toolboxes, chains hung underneath the trailer and the tire carrier whereas the undertray is a simple device and gives you access to that bay area of the trailer. The other nice thing about the SmartTruck undertray is if you’re going to docks with a heavy slope to them, sometimes the skirts will catch the ground and can get damaged. The SmartTruck undertray is set far enough back and has a low enough profile that it’s highly unlikely it will catch the ground, even on severe slopes.”
Interest in aerodynamic devices is beginning to catch on in segments beyond dry van and reefers, adds Lambevski.
“It’s not just the people running to California anymore, everybody seems to be asking about it,” Lambevski says of aerodynamic trailer devices, adding even flatdeck fleets are looking for ways to improve trailer efficiency. “We have never seen that before,” he says.
In the van segment, even nose cones are seeing some renewed interest, Lambevski adds.
Worried about your weight?
Another way to save fuel, beyond aerodynamics, is to reduce trailer weight. This can be done by spec’ing wide-base single tires attached to aluminum rims.
“The weight savings are huge if you compare that to just a standard tandem steel rim trailer,” Ramsden says. “Going to super-singles and aluminum wheels, these guys can save upwards of 700 lbs.”
A trailer of all trades
Fleets are also looking for trailers that can offer additional versatility and perform multiple roles within the fleet, according to Kelly Knight, marketing manager for K-Line Trailers in Langley, B.C.
“We have seen more examples of customers moving away from single-solution equipment and wanting trailers that can more readily adapt to multiple environments to help them keep their competitive edge,” Knight explains.
Them’s the brakes
Another option receiving lots of attention is disc brakes, especially among manufacturers where the upcharge is a more palatable $1,000 per axle or so, according to Lambevski.
“The problem with disc brakes is that with some manufacturers the additional charge is higher than with others,” he says, noting there seems to be more pushback when the premium reaches about $1,500 per axle.
Disc brakes provide greater stopping power, require less maintenance and even allow fleets to streamline inspections. “A lot of people are starting to see the benefits of spending the extra money up-front to save in maintenance and downtime,” Lambevski says.
Manac’s Ramsden has noticed the same trend.
“Everybody wants to know, what are the cost benefits of disc brakes versus standard drum brakes,” he says, noting there are pros and cons to both options, which must be considered relative to the application in which the trailers will be deployed.
Feeling the pressure
Maintaining proper tire inflation pressure has never been easier, thanks to automatic tire inflation systems, which more fleets are spec’ing straight from the factory. The use of inflation systems has been more prevalent in the US, maybe because Canadian trailers must operate in a harsher environment, but the systems available today have much-improved durability, Cobham says.
“We are spec’ing tire inflation on more and more trailers every year,” he says. “It appears the new tire inflation systems are very reliable; they’re not like the systems of the past where people would try them once and say they’re not doing that again.”
Preventing just one roadside service call due to a tire blow-out can nearly pay for the system, Ramsden notes.
“Over the life of a trailer, most guys will run one or two flat repairs because of something that was a run flat,” he says. “For them, it’s a no-brainer to go to a tire inflation system.”
Tire inflation systems also correct changes in tire pressure resulting from ambient temperature fluctuations and can speed up circle checks since the tires will always be properly inflated. Running at the optimum psi has been proven to improve fuel economy and extend tire life.