The national recession and its effect on the trailer industry will be a prime topic of discussion during the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM) 21st Annual Convention and Trade Show Feb. 24-28 in Charleston, S.C.
Economist and author Ben Stein will be the main speaker.
“Our biggest concern is finance,” said Pam O’Toole, executive director of the Topeka, Kan.-based NATM, which predominately represents commercial trailer manufacturers and suppliers. “It’s a serious concern. Textron and GE have pulled out of wholesale financing and Sheffield Financial has significantly cutback on the volume of retail business they were doing for our manufacturers.”
In addition to giving the keynote speech, expected to focus on economic issues specific to the trailer industry, Stein also will facilitate a 1 1/2-hour panel discussion on financing.
Although NATM expects attendance to decline to about 1,000 people from 1,475 in 2008 due to the general economic environment, more than 190 exhibitors had reserved trade-show space by mid-January, which is only slightly off from last year.
“Registrations are going a little slow and the number of exhibitors is down a little bit,” O’Toole said. “A few companies have gone out of business, but we are optimistic that our membership numbers won’t drop too drastically.”
Pretty much in line with declining RV sales, trailer sales through August were down 26.5% compared to 2007, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
” We are fortunate that a lot of our members make units for commercial use,” O’Toole said. “Although sales are off some, because of the variety of our membership and the uses for our members’ trailers, we might recover a little more quickly.”
Founded in 1987, NATM originally represent livestock and horse trailer manufacturers, with a focus on trailer safety. The association since has expanded to include cargo, utility, car-hauling and equestrian trailers with living quarters, as well as towable RVs.
During a roundtable session, NATM members will hear from federal officials on efforts to exempt small manufacturers from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) early reporting requirements.
Concerned about the bureaucratic demands on small businesses, NATM and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) both support a proposed NHTSA rule change that would exempt manufacturers of fewer than 5,000 trailers from routinely reporting safety-related problems to the federal government. The current threshold is 500 units.
Workshop subjects during the convention include current fabrication trends, benchmarking materials, sales price controls, SAE standards and compliance issues.