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Trailer connectivity tech advances as supply shortages crimp production

Like the trucks that pull them, trailers bogged down by supply shortages

Trailer orders rebounded in August from July but an overall supply chain backup is preventing manufacturers from building as many trailers as they have orders to fill. (Photo: Hyundai Translead).

As Class 8 truck production goes, so go the trailers they pull.

Both are bogged down by component supply shortages. Sure, there’s the persistent  semiconductor shortage that many expected would be a memory by now. But supply constraints only begin with missing microchips.

“While ‘semiconductors’ has become the generic reference for the supply chain’s shortcomings, in actuality there are scores of parts that continue to be impacted,” said Kenny Vieth, president and senior analyst at ACT Research.

The pandemic and the lingering impact of steel tariffs are two other hurdles.

“Even the February storm that incapacitated Texas and shut down swaths of the U.S.plastics industry for two-plus quarters,” Vieth said. “Like the supply chains themselves, the issues are not only domestic and not only commercial vehicles.”

Trailers are less dependent on chips than are power units, but they are not immune.

‘Clogged for several more months’

“The supply chain is expected to remain clogged for several more months and then improve at a gradual level throughout the first half of next year,” said Don Ake, vice president of commercial vehicles at FTR Transportation Intelligence.

“OEMs will not be able to build all the orders wanted in 2021. These orders will roll into the first quarter of 2022. [They] do not know when they will be able to ramp up production, so a tremendous amount of uncertainty exists.”

Don ake, vice presdient of commercial vehicles, ftr transportation intelligence

FTR reported preliminary trailer orders of 15,100 units in August, a 79% rebound from July but 47% lower year over year. On a rolling 12-month basis, trailer orders total 341,000 units, more than the industry could produce if it had all the parts and components needed.

Trailer manufacturers began taking limited bookings in August, keeping a firm hand on schedules to prevent unchecked growth in an already heavy backlog.

“OEMs will not be able to build all the orders wanted in 2021,” Ake said. “These orders will roll into the first quarter of 2022. OEMs do not know when they will be able to ramp up production, so a tremendous amount of uncertainty exists.”

The pent-up demand grows monthly as fleets want more trailers to haul freight in a hot market.

“Fleets are desperate for more new trailers today, and they perceive an even greater need next year,” Ake said.

Connectivity technology beckons

Even as the manufacturers sort through their current issues, connectivity for future trailer products is booming.

At last week’s American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council in Cleveland, several technologies debuted.

Hyundai Translead, the leading manufacturer of dry and refrigerated trailers in North America, launched HT LinkSense, an open-platform smart trailer solution that fully integrates with leading telematics partners, including Orbcomm, Phillips Connect, SkyBitz and Spireon.

“An open system provides a fully integrated solution to track and monitor real-time trailer performance data, empowering customers with greater fleet productivity and operational efficiency,” said Sean Kenney, Hyundai Translead chief sales officer.

HT LinkSense will debut on Hyundai Translead’s dry vans and expand into refrigerated, flatbed, chassis and aftermarket products later.

Great Dane trailers didn’t wait for the TMC to announce that its FleetPulse platform, the first trailer-manufacturer-developed smart trailer system, would be standard on new Great Dane trailers with an integrated controller area network (CAN) harness to prepare equipment for future smart technology.

“One of the major hurdles to a connected vehicle future is that long trailer life can hinder the speed of innovation,” said Mike Molitor, Great Dane executive director of business development. “By equipping each Great Dane trailer with a FleetPulse device and CAN harnessing, we believe fleets are better positioned to take advantage of future technologies.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.