Work trucks and trailers are primarily designed and produced individually on a custom-order basis. They are most often built in a multi-stage process involving three distinct yet interrelated industry segments: truck chassis manufacturers and their dealers; truck body, equipment and trailer manufacturers; and truck body, equipment and trailer distributors. A close working relationship is necessary between the groups to ensure product compatibility.
Truck Cab-Chassis Manufacturers and Dealers
Each work truck originates at the assembly plant of a truck chassis manufacturer. Approximately 16 companies produce light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, truck chassis and cab-chassis (a cab, frame and drivetrain) suitable for completion as work-performing vehicles. Through truck dealerships, these products are supplied to truck body and equipment firms for final assembly and installation procedures before delivery to the customer.
Truck Body, Equipment and Trailer Manufacturers
Nearly 1,000 companies nationwide produce a multitude of products for work truck and trailer applications. They supply the industry with commercial-use trucks and bus bodies, truck equipment, trailers, equipment, and parts and accessories. These generally small to mid-size manufacturing firms collectively have more than 65,000 employees. Although some manufacturers sell direct to operators, most firms channel their sales through distributor networks.
Truck Body, Equipment and Trailer Distributors
At the heart of the work truck and trailer industry are about 2,000 small businesses — many of them family-owned — that operate as distributorships. Employing nearly 75,000 people across the country, these companies mount and install the truck and bus bodies, equipment and accessories supplied by the body and equipment manufacturers onto the chassis, cab-chassis and trucks supplied by the truck manufacturers. Although termed in the industry as “distributorships,” these firms actually operate as final-stage manufacturing facilities, designing and building end-product vehicles for specific applications.
Many distributorships are considered “full-line” shops, while others specialize in completing two or three specific types of work trucks. The vast majority also sell various commercial trailers (supplied by trailer manufacturers). A distributor’s sales are typically made on a local or regional basis to customers such as:
- Utility fleets (telephone, cable, electrical, etc.)
- Municipal, county, state governments
- Construction companies
- Service firms
- Wholesale/retail distribution businesses
- Truck dealerships
- Vehicle leasing/rental companies, and
- Private individuals.
Depending on its application, a work truck can require a few basic pieces of equipment or a wide variety of components. It is the distributor’s role to obtain, install and integrate all of these components, completing the truck for its specific use.