YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Local trucking companies are still feeling the impact of the pandemic, as supply chain, demand, workforce and other issues cause concern.
Tim Lower, sales executive for R&R Truck Centers in Youngstown, says demand continues to outweigh supply at his dealership.
“We have not been able to offer available ‘in stock’ trucks since COVID hit,” he says.
R&R sells heavy- and medium-duty trucks and has been in business for 58 years. The company offers class 3 through class 8 trucks, which Lower says can be used for anything from a small van body or refrigerated truck to large trucks that can be used to haul freight from coast to coast.
Lower says some of the medium-duty products, such as Isuzu trucks, have “weathered the COVID storm” better than others.
“Each of our manufacturers for the most part has been able to keep a steady flow of trucks arriving for presold units,” he says. “We are optimistic that the delivery times will improve over the next 12 months.”
Supply shortages and backordered parts continue to be an issue, Lower says. Although the lack of availability is making it difficult to fulfill order requests, he says he is hopeful that the market will soon improve.
“I do not believe there’s a dealer on this planet that can honestly state they are able to fill all requested orders right now,” he says. “We are making strides and I strongly feel things are on the upswing in the market.”
Challenges aside, Lower says the sale of trucks and parts has consistently increased over the years.
“The truck supply shortages have their challenges, but we are at least receiving enough trucks to continue our growth,” he says.
Lower says one recent trend that he has noticed is an increased interest in electric vehicles.
Nearly 60,000 medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks were sold worldwide, representing about 1.2% of truck sales in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. Of the 220 models that became available in 2022, more than half were either medium-duty trucks or heavy-duty trucks.
“With electric vehicles, this also brings along many challenges such as building upgrades to support EV charging stations,” Lower says. “I believe it will be several years before electric vehicles will take off running, but it’s on the radar for some of our customers.”
Another change has been cycles from previous years.
Lower says customers would often go online and find the truck they needed in a few minutes. Now customers must plan purchases over the course of the next 12-18 months, he says.
“Getting the truck is only half the battle,” he says. “Bodies are needed for 50% or more of the trucks ordered and they have their own lead time issues. Plan way ahead or you will find yourself in a tough position. Especially if you’re dealing with perishable goods.”
John Cerni, president of Trivista Companies Inc., says a lot has changed since mid-2017 when Trivista was officially formed. Demand for products has been very strong over the past four years, but supply chain issues have made it hard to fill those requests.
Trivista offers a variety of trailers, including Fruehauf, Neville Built and Wabash lines. The company also offers lease and rental options for trucks, trailers and equipment throughout its 13 dealership locations within Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio.
“Everything from chips to steel and aluminum, even plastics are experiencing shortages,” he says. “There is also a shortage of qualified technicians and drivers.”
The company offers new and used trucks, trailers and equipment, lease and rental options, and a full array of diversified fabrication services.
Cerni says his company has received 60% of its truck and trailer orders over the past three years.
“As the supply chain shortage continues, this situation is likely to continue over the next few years,” he says. “On the current front, inflation and higher interest is slowing the economy, so we will most definitely see a slowdown in transportation needs.”
According to Americas Commercial Transportation Research, “expectations are that current strong production and sales in the face of weak freight creation will exhaust pent-up demand in 2023, as lower freight rates, higher equipment and borrowing costs, improved equipment availability, and shrinking profits put downward pressure on demand overall.”
Despite the hardships of supply chain issues, product shortages and lack of employees, Cerni says the company has been able to grow 20% over this period compared to last year.
“We’ve become a smarter and more streamlined team, positioned to better serve all of our employees and customers,” he said. “Trivista continues to build its brand on the solid foundation of dedication and grit provided by our founders.”
While some companies still are seeing some success, not all of them have been so fortunate.
Eaborn Trucking, a regional flatbed trucking company based in Pittsburgh, opened in 1942. The company serves a 150-mile radius of Pittsburgh, offering 48- and 53-foot flatbed trailers, drop deck trailers and 48-foot Conestoga trailers, serving the industrial and manufacturing industries.
“The business has slowed up about 10% year over year and at the peak of COVID it was down about 38% from 2019,” says Jim Eaborn, president.
While they are able to keep up with demand, Eaborn says he has faced a challenge in finding drivers. He says supply chain issues also made vehicle parts availability “very hit or miss.”
“We find that we are inventorying more of a variety of parts in larger quantities due to the uncertain availability,” he says.
Overall, there are a lot of concerns for the business. “The overall business is still trending down based upon the overall economic conditions and uncertainty,” Eaborn says.