SIC 3715

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing truck trailers, truck trailer chassis for sale separately, detachable trailer bodies (cargo containers) for sale separately, and detachable trailer (cargo container) chassis for sale separately.

NAICS Code(s)

336212 (Truck Trailer Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

Shipments for this industry increased throughout the 1990s, reaching $6.7 billion in 1999. Demand was driven in large part by a booming U.S. economy. However, the economy began to slow in 2000, and shipments declined to $6.3 billion.

Design innovations in the industry focused on increasing payloads and improving safety, particularly in braking systems. Manufacturers also used different materials including aluminum and plastics—in addition to steel—to make increasingly lightweight trailers.

Organization and Structure

Like heavy trucks, truck trailers are purchased for specific applications and are therefore manufactured in a variety of styles and types. Van, container chassis, and flatbed trailers comprise the majority of trailer shipments, while the remainder consists of a small number of more specialized trailer types. Both the number of axles and length of trailers vary, with the most popular trailers having two axles, followed by single-axle designs and trailers with three or more axles. Popular trailer lengths are 48 feet and 28 feet.

Trailers are used singly or in combinations of three, as in triple "pups." Pups are 28-foot trailers that have limited use in 16 states. Sometimes three of these trailers are attached to a truck tractor to form triple pups, which together span about 104 feet. Trucking firms have urged Congress to expand the use of triples. Even though the triple pups save trucking firms millions of dollars, The Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, a not-for-profit organization, fought to keep larger trucks off the roads.

Truck trailers were manufactured in most of the 50 states. In 1999, Texas, California, and Pennsylvania led the nation in the number of manufacturing establishments per state.

Background and Development

In the early 1980s, in response to an increase in intermodal shipments of goods—a system using two or more methods of transport, including trucks, trains, and ships—container chassis trailer shipments increased. The demand for a variety of trailer types, including custom designs, prompted the establishment of several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the trailer industry. Furthermore, increased competition arose from deregulation of the industry in 1980, making manufacturers leaner and more efficient. Many trailer manufacturers were small businesses serving local areas, often employing 50 or fewer workers.

In 1984 approximately 400 truck trailer manufacturers were operating in the United States, employing almost 28,000 workers. Approximately 214,000 trailers were shipped that year, for total sales of $3.31 billion. In 1995, an improvement in the economy brought the industry work force up to 38,700 workers, of which 31,700 were production workers. Trailer shipments totaled 187,000 units in 1992, and total industry sales were estimated at $3.47 billion. The industry was operating below capacity during the early 1990s.

The market for exporting truck trailers was expected to expand throughout the 1990s. The United States maintained a trade surplus in truck trailers, and in 1991 the value of exports for the truck trailer industry was $175 million, while the value of imports was only $23.9 million.

Current Conditions

In late 1990 the demand for truck trailers reached an all-time high. Stronger U.S. economic growth drove the demand, as a sharp rise in freight shipments spurred higher spending by truckers. In 1999, the truck trailer manufacturing industry shipments reached a record high of $6.72 billion, compared to $6.38 billion in 1998. When the economy began to cool in 2000, the value of shipments weakened, dropping to $6.37 billion.

The industry employed a total of 34,259 people in 2000, of whom 28,859 were production workers. The average hourly wage for production workers in 2000 was $13.34.

One safety-related addition to new truck models in the late 1990s was the implementation of anti-lock brakes in truck trailers. The new anti-lock braking system (ABS), designed especially for truck trailers, was expected to result in substantial savings for motor carriers by providing controlled braking, enhanced vehicle stability, increased driver control, and stable stopping during emergency brake situations. Rockwell WABCO Vehicle Control Systems' Easy-Stop (TM) was one of the first innovators of ABS for truck trailers.

Another innovation, pioneered by Raven-Trailers of England in 1999, allows trailer pins and brakes to be locked in seconds by the driver from the cab, eliminating the time-consuming manual locking system.

Industry Leaders

Out of about 134 operating companies in this industry, Wabash National Corporation was the industry leader. The company posted 1998 sales of nearly $1.29 billion, having grown over 52 percent from the previous year. Based in Lafayette, Indiana, Wabash had about 5,300 employees.

In 1997, Wabash National bought out Fruehauf Trailer Corporation, the former industry leader, after the company suffered huge financial wounds due to Chapter 11 filing. Wabash was also an industry leader in advanced trailer designs, including aluminum-plate trailers that do not require plywood interiors, allowing them to hold more cargo, and their patented, lightweight trailers with flexible plastic walls. Forecasters predicted trailer manufacturers would adopt these new innovations industry-wide.

Great Dane Trailers of Savannah, Georgia, ranked second in the industry with 1998 sales revenue estimated at $1 billion and 4,700 employees. Other leading companies were Utility Trailer Manufacturing Company of California, with $584 million in sales revenue and 2,600 employees, and Dorsey Trailers Inc., of Atlanta, Georgia, with $150.3 million in sales and over 1,000 employees.

Further Reading

Berman, Phyllis. "The Wabash Way." Forbes, 6 April 1999,78.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employment—National, Not Seasonally Adjusted." 1999. Available from .

"Custom Cylinder Improves Trailer Locking" Design News, 16 August 1999.

Gruebnau, Pam. "Today's Trailers Work to Make Hauling Easier." Construction Equipment, October 1996.

"Hoover's Industry Snapshots." Hoover's Online: The Business Network, 1999. Available from .

Isidore, Chris. "Triple 'Pups' Not Everyone's Best Friends." Journal of Commerce and Commercial, 26 November 1996.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

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