German industry leads the West European trailer market recovery

The German trailer industry is undergoing a very rapid revival in its fortunes, according to consulting group Clear. Output of trailers has been boosted by three key demand growth factors, says the firm’s latest report on the subject.

Firstly, the German market itself has recovered from the nadir of 2009 in splendid style: sales of trailers will exceed the combined demand of France, the UK and Italy in 2011 as it did in 2010. Secondly, exports of trailers from Germany increased by 90 per cent in 2010 as markets in both East and West Europe, with a very few exceptions, started to recover. Thirdly, stocks of finished trailers which had accumulated as the recession bit, had been large cleaned out, leaving the industry in a very lean condition. This meant that all new orders went straight into increased production.

The result is that more than half the trailers built in Western Europe will be made in Germany from 2011 to 2015.  Nevertheless, the levels of trailer output seen in 2007/8 will not be repeated in this period, either in Germany or in other countries. In fact, it is possible those levels may never be witnessed again, having been triggered by a combination of financial exuberance and a rash of new countries in Eastern Europe joining the EU.

Almost all the countries of Western Europe will see an increase of trailer demand of more than 20 per cent in 2011. Only Portugal is likely to see a fall in demand as its economy has effectively gone into reverse. Looking forward, many countries will see further, though more muted growth in 2012.

The types of trailers that have done relatively badly during the recession are curtain-side, box van and container chassis.  Those types that had a less severe downturn were the refrigerated, tipper (dumper) and tanker/bulk trailers. Broadly speaking then, less expensive “commodity” type trailers had a difficult time whereas expensive specialised trailers saw smaller falls in demand. As usual in a slowdown, falls in the market for semi-trailers were much larger than those for centre-axle and drawbar trailers.

Gary Beecroft, managing director of CLEAR commented: “The turnaround in trailer output in Germany has been astonishing, but the rapid increase in production is likely to result in output marking time in 2012, and possibly 2013, before further increases are possible.  But eventually German trailer output will exceed 100,000 units again.”

77 per cent of goods in Europe are moved by road and most of that proportion is transported on a trailer pulled by a truck.  The last severe downturn in the heavy goods trailer market was in 1993 – but 2009 was worse.  In 92/93 the demand for trailers fell by 31 per cent or 37,000 trailers.  In 2008/9 the fall was 51 per cent or 107,000 trailers. The fall in trailer production was worse as exports fell faster than domestic demand plus there was a massive destocking of finished vehicles.

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