Outlook for heavy trailer sales in Eastern Europe improves: Strong demand in Turkey boosts growth

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Trailer industry analyists CLEAR International has issued its latest 2023 forecast for the East European Heavy Trailer Market.

After weak trailer demand in 2020 caused by covid-19 there was a 42% increase in trailer registrations in the East European region in 2021, helped by huge growth in Poland and Turkey in particular. In percentage terms growth in 2021 varied from 6% in Russia to 112% in Lithuania and therefore positive in every country.

2022 saw a 4.1% fall in trailer demand in the region as a result of substantial falls in demand within the countries most affected by the war in Ukraine, which included Russia and Belarus. Poland also had a large fall in demand but that was due to having record demand for trailers in 2021, which took sales to an unsustainable level.

In 2023 a further of 13% decline in the region is forecast due to the continuing war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, inflation, sanctions and of course a lack of business confidence which will delay investment in transport equipment.

The outlier in the region was Turkey which had a 38% increase in trailer demand in 2022. The reason was that, with inflation running at 70%, companies with cash in the bank would rather spend it on assets which will retain some value rather than watch it depreciate in value. Furthermore, Turkey had relatively low demand for trucks and trailers in 2016-20, so a large amount of catch-up demand had accumulated.

Trailer sales in 2018 were the third highest on record, only surpassed in 2007 and 2008. The forecast now is that registrations of new trailers will exceed the 2007 level in 2027 having surpassed the 2018 level in 2021.

The prognosis for the 2023-2027 period has been upgraded in every year, in particular within Turkey, Czechia and Bulgaria.

Russia, the largest trailer market in Eastern Europe until 2010, suffered a 50% fall in demand between 2011 and 2015, largely as a consequence of the annexation of Crimea, but had an astonishing recovery in 2017/18 and was the largest market once again in 2019-20. Turkish demand reached a new low in 2019, but recovery is already well established, and it will remain roughly on the same level as Poland until the end of the forecast period.

Whereas the demand for road transport (measured in tonne-km) in Western Europe has yet to recover to the levels that were typical before the 2009 recession, in Eastern Europe, both domestic and international road transport demand has continued to grow every year. Every year that is until 2018 when growth stalled. Slowdowns in Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Poland and Hungary were enough to halt the growth which had been continuous since 2000. There was some 5.6% growth in demand in 2019 but this was mostly due to international activity in Poland and Lithuania.  There was further growth of 3.2% and 8.0% in 2020 and 2021 respectively, and 2.3% growth is estimated for 2020. Effectively the demand for transport has transferred from Western to Eastern Europe.

Gary Beecroft, managing director of CLEAR International commented, “The Russian intervention in Ukraine will result in its trailer market falling back to the levels last seen after the occupation of Crimea in 2014. The sanctions imposed on Russia (again) are having a real effect. In contrast Poland, Turkey and Lithuania will have strong markets in the post-covid forecast period.”

Background

Many East European countries joined the EU in 2004-07, which resulted in booming demand for trailers. In particular, semi-trailer demand rocketed as the volume of international road transport increased, both within Eastern Europe and between the East and the West. From 2002 to 2007 the compound annual growth rate for trailer demand was 25.7%. Demand for trailers broke the 100,000 unit barrier in 2007 but fell to 40,000 in 2009 as a result of the GFC.

77% of goods in Europe are moved by road, and most of that proportion is transported in a trailer.

The East European Trailer Market Report (April 2023), with forecasts to 2027, can be obtained from CLEAR using the contact details below. A new report for the West European market was issued in March 2023. A Global Trailer Database is also available and was updated in January 2023.