After coming off one of the worst sales years in the trailer industry’s history, manufacturers are intent on delivering more cost-saving features to customers across the trucking spectrum. “Trucks are getting heavier and more expensive due to emission regulations,” said Craig Bennett, senior vp-sales and marketing for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co., during a news conference at last week’s Mid-America Trucking Show.

Bennett pointed out that the average weight of a Class 8 truck has increased some 1,500 to 1,700 lbs between 2007 and 2010. “As a result, fleets are looking for ways to reduce trailer tare weight, improve fuel economy benefits, make them more repairable and last longer – all to generate cost savings for their bottom line,” he said.

Delivering such value to customers, Bennett added, is also critical to helping re-ignite languishing trailer sales . According to ACT Research, trailer sales as a whole dropped to 79,432 units in 2009 – a nearly 50% falloff from 144,377 in 2008 and an over 75% decline from 277,398 units in 2006.

Utility’s answer to the cost-saving demands of customers is its own trailer “side skirts,” which were designed in-house and offered with factory installation and a 5-year warranty. Introduced in February , the Utility Side Skirt 120 (USS-120) and Utility Side Skirt 160 (USS-160) are made from a flexible fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) material attached to refrigerated and dry van trailers, respectively, via stainless steel braces to the chassis. They cost $1,000 to $2,000 per pair to equip one trailer, Bennett noted, depending on tax incentives available.

The USS-120 provides on average a 4% improvement in fuel economy, while the USS-160 showed a 5% boost. But he said the fuel gains will depend ultimately on how the tractor-trailer is driven on the road, .

Other trailer makers are also hard at work with new innovations to show for it. Hyundai Translead’s new Freight Max 53-ft dry van trailer is lighter by 1,000 to 1,200 lbs compared to either traditional sheet-and-post or composite 53-ft models, said Todd Pate, Hyundai’s director of national account sales for the north central region. “It’s all about allowing fleets to haul more payload while also reducing the fuel consumed when pulling an empty unit,” he told FleetOwner. “Lighter trailers help you do that.”

Pate added that a customer – specifically, David Oren, president of Dart Transit – came up with the Freight Max’s design and holds the patent, with Hyundai producing and marketing the design under license. “That shows you how critical weight is to the dry van market,” Pate said.

Great Dane Trailers has enhanced its ThermoGuard liner material for refrigerated trailers as a way to lower life-cycle costs and extend ownership periods for fleets – efforts rooted in helping shrink the impact of trailers on the bottom line.

Great Dane’s ThermoGuard liner now includes a metallic layer that retards “outgassing” from foam insulation – meaning deterioration of the refrigerated trailer’s insulation is held in check longer, extending the usable life of a reefer while reducing operational costs over that period, said Chris Hammond IV, Great Dane’s vp-dealer sales and operations.

“If you don’t lose your insulating ability your trailer will last longer and the reefer unit won’t have to work as hard to maintain desired temperatures,” he told FleetOwner. “That also means you won’t have to change the reefer unit’s oil as often and less fuel will be used as well.”

All these engineering efforts aim to help build up demand for new trailers, Utility’s Bennett added.

“Our industry has really contracted – last year’s sales represented the lowest number of trailers sold in 34 years. That’s a challenge for everyone,” he said. “But this year we’re forecasting a 20% to 25% rise in sales as fleets replace old equipment. We’re hopeful sales will just keep going up from there.”