Despite the challenges of a driver shortage, scrambled supply chains, and new-equipment order backlogs — or perhaps in part because of those factors — conditions for making money in trucking have exploded since the lift of spring 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
The following graphs paint a picture of excellent trucking conditions and an industry where carriers are in the drivers’ seat when it comes to rates.
After a year of record spot freight volumes and rates, there are indications that spot and contract freight are starting to come back more into balance.
Following the market boom in 2018, the spot freight market balanced out and was averaging 400,000 loads per day and approximately $2/mile, explains Brent Hutto, chief relationship officer with Truckstop.com. “But the pandemic’s effect on the purchasing behavior of the U.S. consumer radically changed everything. Consumer purchasing increased more than 35% above yearly normal in the second half of 2020 and has remained strong into 2021. This change resulted in a market that peaked at 1.8 million loads in a single day and rates of $3.17 per mile.”
Spot market load volumes and rates are beginning to normalize, Hutto says, but a truly normal spot marketplace is not expected until 2022.
Against that backdrop, it’s been a busy past year for mergers and acquisitions, many of which appear aimed at being able to provide customers with one-stop shopping. Rail company CSX bought Quality Carriers, a bulk liquid chemicals truck transportation business, creating a rail-to-highway offering. Knight-Swift is buying AAA Cooper as a move into the less-than-truckload business. Canada’s TFI International has been on a buying spree both north and south of the border, including UPS’ LTL business and global 3PL DLS Worldwide. And those are just a few examples.
At the same time, the number of new for-hire trucking companies getting authority has soared. The majority appear to be entrepreneurial truck drivers leaving big fleet jobs to start their own businesses, taking advantage of high spot rates and new technology that allows them to more easily book loads.
Trucking is an increasingly data-driven industry. Numbers matter. There’s no end to the available software and analytics available to fleets today to help them analyze and improve their operations.
But sometimes you want to look at statistics and data to help give you the big picture, and this is what Heavy Duty Trucking’s annual Fact Book issue is all about. It’s designed to provide a snapshot of the current state of the industry, where it’s been, and where it’s going. These numbers can help you in planning and benchmarking your fleet, and in telling trucking’s story to others. And it can serve as a reference guide throughout the year.
This is the seventh year for the HDT Fact Book. Check out the other published sections of the Fact Book:
Industry: Trucking Rides High on Economic Recovery
Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.