A turn for the better in the wheel business?

Wheels move the U.S. economy. Mark Padellford sells all kinds of wheels. So when the recession hit, he felt it. These days, though, in some parts of his business, he’s starting to see a turn for the better and that could mean good things for the economy.

Padellford, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, is director of product and marketing for Pioneer Rim and Wheel, a Minneapolis-based company that distributes wheels for trucks, trailers farm equipment and other machines as well automotive repair parts across Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

We asked him to share what he’s seeing. He broke it down for us piece by piece.

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Trucks

“The business started to change first in the truck wheel segment,” said Padellford. “When there’s no freight to haul, people park their trailers. When they’re not driving their rigs, they’re not bumping into curbs and needing wheels.”

With a big chunk of the nation’s truck fleet parked, that business has dried up. The forecast is bleak, he said. No one’s looking for big increases in 2010 but the decline’s expected to stop, he added.

Industry research bears that out. The Freight Transportation Research group declared in November that the recovery had begun but cautioned against expecting any “near-term major improvements for freight companies and their suppliers.” The trucking business is starting to pick up more freight but it’s a bumpy ride.

Farm equipment

“The Ag business has been down considerably from ’08, but ’08 was a great year,” said Padellford. “This business seems to have flattened out. As the farmers go, so does this business segment.” Tractor wheels and attaching components make up the bulk of this segment.

Cars

Padellford’s company distributes car and light truck replacement parts to repair shops. From prior reporting, we know people put off car repairs in a recession.

The market’s been down for about a year but there are signs of a turnaround. The number of vehicle miles driven is starting to see a small increase, he said.

Players in the automobile parts after-market are starting to see an uptick in comparable store sales, Padellford said, adding “You can only put off needed repairs so long.”

Trailers

Wheels and parts that make up work and construction trailers (think of the trailer that holds up the flashing “construction work ahead” signs on the highway or any other piece of equipment that needs to be mobile) tanked in the recession along with the construction business.

But the trailer repair parts business seems to be picking up as construction, municipalities and fleets seem to be holding onto equipment longer.

Padellford says the federal stimulus bill can create some upside if money gets to the projects that really are “shovel ready.”

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