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Worldwide Aluminum Shortages are the Next Challenge to Trailer Industry

Canadian Trucker Blockade(photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

As with most things over the past couple of years, the trailer industry continues to face changes and challenges. Last year, we highlighted some of the reasons for low stock, long lead times, and high prices, and now that more changes are coming it’s time to provide an update.

First, the good news.

Although lead times remain longer and prices remain higher than pre-Covid, we do have plenty of inventory in-stock. A year ago at this time, our lot was as empty as it has ever been. Our manufacturers were having trouble keeping up with demand and trailers were trickling in. But that’s not a problem now.

Today, we have a full lot of trailers in various types, sizes, colors, and materials. If you’re looking to purchase a trailer, now is a great time to shop. We have a variety of utility trailers, cargo trailers, dump trailers, concession trailers, car haulers, toy haulers, marketing trailers, office trailers, and landscape trailers to choose from.

More changes are coming.

Trailers are made of either aluminum or steel. Steel trailers are typically less expensive, but also heavier and susceptible to rust. Aluminum trailers cost more because they are lighter, stronger pound-for-pound, and rust-resistant. However, there is an impending aluminum shortage that will make aluminum trailers virtually nonexistent once current stock is depleted.

According to Market Realist, China is the world’s biggest aluminum producer, but the country’s decarbonization policies have tightened restrictions in order to reach carbon-emission goals.

In addition to reducing their aluminum output, China has also greatly increased its aluminum importing from other countries – a double-whammy for the rest of the world’s aluminum supply.

An industry slowing down

Beyond China, many of Europe’s aluminum producers have either shut down or reduced capacity due to soaring energy costs.

  • France’s Aluminium Dunkerque Industries recently announced that it will lower its production.
  • Spain’s Aloca completely closed its primary aluminum smelter – the second largest in Europe – through 2023.
  • Romania’s Alro smelter cut production by 60 percent.
  • Slovakia’s Slovalco smelter also reduced by 60 percent.

Then there are the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Russia trails only China in worldwide aluminum production, and US or European sanctions over their aggression could further impact output. The Untied States already imposed sanctions in 2018 on Russia’s Rusal, which accounts for 6 percent of global aluminum supplies. Those sanctions were lifted in early 2019, but resulted in a leap in aluminum prices.

India, another one of the world’s leading aluminum producers, is also facing shortages due to coal supplies limited to just 40-50 percent of required amounts.

According to Macquarie, a global financial services group based in Australia, “The aluminum market [will] see a deficit of 1.8 million tonnes this year after a shortfall of 1.5 million tonnes in 2021.”

Low stocks, increasing demand

All told, aluminum stocks are at a 22-year low, but aluminum demand worldwide has been steadily increasing over the past decade or more. In the United States, especially during the pandemic, breweries are replacing glass bottles with aluminum cans and hard seltzer drinks have surged in popularity.

Then, there’s the Canadian trucker protest, which has also wreaked havoc on the supply chain. While China leads the world in aluminum production, the U.S. imports the majority of its aluminum — 36.4 percent — from Canada. The auto industry, which has started increasing its use of aluminum over the last decade, was forced to slow production at Ford, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota plants in Michigan because of the lack of materials coming across the border.

That’s where much of the aluminum used in the trailer industry comes from, and once current supplies are used up they will be forced to build only steel trailers until they can get more aluminum.

The response from trailer manufacturers

One of our manufacturers sent out a bulletin last week saying, “Due to our aluminum tube supply being held up at the Canadian border, at this time we cannot build any stock aluminum trailers other than 5 and 6 wides. We do not have a time frame as to how long this will last. We will do our best to continue the sold aluminum trailers first until we run out of tube.” 

Another one of our manufacturers told us today that they have six sheets of aluminum left, so everything moving forward will have to be steel. 

If you are in the market to purchase a trailer and you know you want aluminum, give us a call at 630-524-2029. We have quite a few aluminum cargo trailers and car haulers still on our lot. Check out our current inventory.

If you want to custom order an aluminum trailer, that may not be possible for a while for the reasons stated above. As of now, steel isn’t a problem, so if material isn’t a big concern to you, go with a steel trailer. We work with plenty of manufacturers that build great quality steel trailers. 

If you absolutely want aluminum, give us a call and we’ll do our best to figure out which manufacturers have the capacity to still build them.

Regardless, we will continue to provide open and transparent updates and work hard to provide solutions for our customers. 

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