2017 outlook: Into the unknown

From the April 2017 issue.

US President Donald Trump isn’t the only unknown obscuring the transport equipment industry’s outlook on 2017. With a hard Brexit scenario now imminent and legislation tightening in China, anything is possible.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy is currently seeing an unlikely renaissance in international trailer building circles – at least when it comes to predicting how the market will develop in the year ahead. “There are no facts, only interpretations,” the German eccentric once famously noted, and according to many an industry executive, that’s about as much as they feel comfortable saying.

One reason for the collective restraint is the boisterous new US administration: President Donald Trump’s divisive first month in office has absorbed much of the attention that would have typically gone toward forecasting the industry’s growth potential for 2017, and left behind a feeling of unease that settled on an otherwise optimistic industry like a veil of fog – discomforting, but not necessarily disruptive. 

By way of example, Matthias Wissmann, President of German industry association VDA, seemed surprisingly reserved when announcing a 25-year-high in commercial vehicle sales at the start of the year, and Schwarzmüller CEO Roland Hartwig’s prognosis on the back of announcing record sales last month was a mere “cautiously positive”. In fact, Hartwig added a brief but insightful sidenote, saying “international political risks cannot be overlooked” in 2017.

Even the International Monetary Forum (IMF) avoided taking a distinct position last month, saying that while economic activity is projected to pick up pace in 2017 and 2018, especially in emerging markets, “there is a wide dispersion of possible outcomes around the projections, given uncertainty surrounding the policy stance of the … US administration and its global ramifications.”

The reason for the collective unrest is not just Trump’s precipitant policymaking, though. Both in Europe and the US, OEMs are preparing for the end of the business cycle that began after the global financial crisis (GFC) and saw a surge of pent-up demand that not just reinvigorated trailer building, but spurred a level of innovation and new thinking unlike any other time in the history of the trade.



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