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Top 25 Trucking Companies 2023: Is this year normal?

As the $830 billion trucking industry prepares for what could be the first full “normal” year since the pandemic caused tidal waves in supply/demand cycles, the “best of the best” are concentrating on strategy, operations and execution.

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This is an excerpt of the original article. It was written for the May-June 2023 edition of Supply Chain Management Review. The full article is available to current subscribers.

May-June 2023

If you were dropped onto this planet and landed at McCormick Place in the heart of Chicago in the middle of March, you would probably conclude that planet Earth had been overrun by robots. Everywhere you turned on the ProMat conference floor, there was a robot lifting something, putting something away, or carrying something to another location. But, despite a conference hall overrun by technology, the on-the-ground reality is a bit different. Not so long ago, commercial real estate firm Prologis estimated the number of facilities with any type of automation at about 10%. But that is changing—quickly. A recent report from JLL found that one-in-two…
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This year’s annual listing of the nation’s top 50 trucking companies is a “who’s who” of the best in the industry. Ours is a compilation of the largest in both the truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers. To grow this big means they’re largely the best in service across the board—safety, service, culture, diversification, innovation, strategy and execution.

So, we thought it would be interesting to ask the chief executives of a few of these companies what they thought were common denominators when they look at the competitive landscape in trucking in 2023.

“Service stands out, but it’s also credibility,” says Chuck Hammel, president of Pitt Ohio, No. 15 by revenue on the LM list of LTL carriers. “It’s also a great culture and a caring attitude toward the employee, customer and community.”

According to Derek Leathers, chairman, CEO and president of Werner Enterprises, the No. 6 on this year’s TL carrier list, companies with a keen sense of purpose and core values can drive success through making them a central component of their overall strategy. “Honing in on a durable and multifaceted long-term strategy provides a sound blueprint to not only weather an economic storm or other challenges, but to thrive during times of uncertainty.”

“Diversification,” said Greg Orr, president of CFI, a major truckload carrier. “Not just in customers, but in service offerings. There are a lot of things that can help diversify a carrier. In fact, the top four or five truckload carriers have all dipped their toes into a different space the last five years or so.”

Mark Rourke, president and CEO of Schneider, No. 4 on the TL list, agrees with Orr’s assessment. “When we look at ourselves and our best competitors, what’s emerging is increased depth and diversification of services. Everybody has their mix of services.”

As an example, when Rourke first began in trucking more than 25 years ago, Schneider got approximately 90% of its revenue over the road. Now it’s more a 50/50 split between over-the-road, dedicated, intermodal rail and other modes, he says.

When asked what his common denominators were for top operators, trucking analyst Satish Jindel, principal of SJ Consulting Group, which compiles our annual top trucking lists, said discipline and pricing. “There’s a greater focus on getting paid properly for what they’re hauling.”

So, as the $830 billion trucking industry prepares for what could be the first full “normal” year since the pandemic caused tidal waves in supply and demand cycles, let’s examine what’s ahead for the best of the trucking industry in 2023.

Top 25 LTL Carriers ranked by 2022 revenues (Including fuel surcharges)

Rank

Carrier name

2021 Revenue
($ million)

2022 Revenue
($ million)

YoY % Change

2021-2022

1

FedEx Freight

$8,594

$10,186

18.5%

2

Old Dominion Freight Line

$5,177

$6,177

19.3%

3

Yellow Corporation

$5,078

$5,245

3.3%

4

XPO Logistics

$4,192

$4,645

10.8%

5

Estes Express Lines

$3,783

$4,405

16.4%

6

TFI International

$3,179

$4,023

26.6%

7

ABF Freight System

$2,518

$2,951

17.2%

8

R+L Carriers*

$2,427

$2,864

18.0%

9

Saia Motor Freight Line

$2,289

$2,792

22.0%

10

Southeastern Freight Lines

$1,476

$1,741

18.0%

11

Averitt Express

$1,093

$1,302

19.2%

12

Central Transport International *

$1,046

$1,236

18.2%

13

Dayton Freight Lines

$863

$1,056

22.4%

14

Forward Air

$831

$969

16.6%

15

Pitt Ohio Transportation Group

$792

$912

15.2%

16

AAA Cooper Transportation*

$653

$874

33.8%

17

A. Duie Pyle

$481

$568

18.1%

18

Daylight Transport

$380

$389

2.3%

19

Roadrunner Transportation*

$430

$386

-10.2%

20

Oak Harbor Freight Lines*

$284

$338

19.0%

21

Ward Trucking Corporation

$230

$256

11.2%

22

Magnum LTL

$118

$152

28.8%

23

Midwest Motor Express

$137

$152

10.9%

24

Dependable Highway Express

$117

$131

12.0%

25

Cross Country Freight Solutions*

$114

$130

14.0%

Total Top 25 LTL Carriers

$46,282

$53,881

16.4%

All Other Carriers*

$4,420

$4,841

9.5%

Total LTL Market

$50,702

$58,722

15.8%

*SJC estimates Prepared by SJ Consulting Group, Inc.

From the top

First and foremost, the search for qualified drivers continues, with demographics working against most carriers. However, there are signs that sharp increases in pay the last few years may be eating into a shortage that’s estimated at 83,000 drivers by the American Trucking Associations.

Second, the merger-and-acquisition rush may not match 2022’s madness, but several large truckload carriers may choose to grow by acquisition instead of organically.

Service stands out, but it’s also credibility…a great culture and a caring attitude toward the employee, customer and community.
— Chuck Hammel,
president of Pitt Ohio

Third, carriers feeling the need to replace aging equipment after COVID-related constraints limited their replacement tractor purchases the past two years may find the Class 8 market returning to normalcy.

In the meantime, all of this is occurring as the sectors of the market work to perfect autonomous vehicles as well as those propelled by fuels other than diesel. This is part of the Biden administration’s push to meet a stated goal of shifting all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to zero-emission vehicles by 2040. The question remains: How realistic is that goal?

The economic outlook

Trucking is what economists call “a derived demand industry.” That means trucking can’t create economic activity much beyond the actual hauling of freight—which largely depends on the health of the economy.

Reading economic tea leaves is always a fool’s mission. If it were all that easy and accurate, top executives joke to one another, no one would be working in the thin-margin business of trucking.

“Who knows?” Hammel says when asked for his best economic outlook in this topsy-turvy time. “The economists sure seem to be puzzled as well.”

Others are a bit more opinionated in their economic forecasts. “I’m optimistic that by mid-year, maybe sooner, there will be a more normal cycle of replenishment as we turn through that excess inventory, whether that’s industrial or consumer,” says Schneider’s Rourke says.

Others agreed. “The spring push is around the corner,” says CFI’s Orr. “You will see things improve as inventories come down. The back half of the year will be a lot better than the first half.”

“What we expect is that through the first two quarters of this year we’ll see this softness as a result of freight that’s already moved, and then we start to move back into a more normal cycle,” said David Jackson, president and CEO of the largest truckload carrier, Knight-Swift, during a recent conference call.

Freight movement on U.S. roads, rails and through ports has slowed since the middle of 2022. That ended a boom in shipping during the pandemic, as retailers rushed goods through jammed logistics networks to meet strong consumer demand.

The Cass Freight Index, which measures domestic trucking and rail shipments in the United States, fell 3.3% from November to December. That was the fourth straight month-to-month decline. For all of 2022, the index ended down 3.9% from December 2021.

Top 25 Truckload Carriers Ranked by 2022 revenues (Including fuel surcharges)

Rank

Carrier name

2021 Revenue
($ million)

2022 Revenue
($ million)

YoY % Change

2021-2022

1

Knight-Swift Transportation

$4,098

$4,531

10.6%

2

J.B. Hunt Transport Services

$3,374

$4,461

32.2%

3

Landstar System

$2,932

$3,081

5.1%

4

Schneider National

$2,201

$2,787

26.6%

5

Prime

$2,207

$2,605

18.0%

6

Werner Enterprises

$2,023

$2,402

18.7%

7

Penske Logistics

$1,851

$2,300

24.3%

8

CRST International

$1,586

$1,853

16.8%

9

U.S. Xpress Enterprises

$1,568

$1,825

16.4%

10

Ryder Systems

$1,457

$1,786

22.6%

11

Crete Carrier Corp.

$1,304

$1,525

16.9%

12

Daseke

$1,249

$1,398

12.0%

13

CR England

$993

$1,209

21.8%

14

Western Express

$977

$1,138

16.5%

15

PS Logistics

$982

$1,104

12.4%

16

NFI Industries

$855

$1,100

28.7%

17

Ruan Transportation

$875

$985

12.6%

18

Heartland Express

$607

$968

59.4%

19

KLLM

$917

$953

3.9%

20

Marten Transport

$726

$930

28.0%

21

Stevens Transport

$702

$841

19.7%

22

Cardinal Logistics

$658

$821

24.8%

23

Covenant Transportation Group

$623

$752

20.6%

24

Anderson Trucking Service

$665

$750

12.7%

25

Hirschbach Motor Lines

$570

$735

28.9%

Total For Top 25 Carriers

$36,000

$42,840

18.9%

Prepared by SJ Consulting Group, Inc.

Driver picture improving?

For the first time in at least the last decade, when the subject of finding compliant, available drivers was broached, trucking executives didn’t flinch. Whether it’s improved pay—Walmart’s private fleet drivers earn around $110,000 a year if experienced—or simply greater exposure to the driver shortage, carriers say they’re finding a better supply of applicants.

“We’ve all benefited from publicity of the critical nature of supply chains and the essential nature of truck drivers,” says Rourke, noting that Schneider has raised pay by nearly 20% the past two years for most of its 12,000 company drivers. “The nature and stature of the driving position has been elevated, and we’re seeing a better supply of drivers entering the industry.”

Werner’s Leathers adds: “Albeit still a challenging market, the pressure to recruit and retain quality drivers has abated somewhat.”

Still, some warn of demographics working against the industry. Average age of a Teamster-covered driver is around 59. Most non-union companies trend younger, but only by a few years. “The more tenured drivers will face retirement in the next one to five years,” says Orr. “While we’re bringing on younger drivers, it’s not at the same pace to replace those retirements.”

One longer-term worry for carriers may be the fact that as the newly minted $1.2 trillion infrastructure program begins to be spent, construction jobs will outbid trucking companies for a similar pool of drivers. “The economy will come around, and so will finding drivers,” adds Hammel. “It seems that the problem is here to stay.”

Bullish on LTL

Darren Hawkins, CEO of Yellow Corp., which is transforming itself from three regional and one national carrier into a multi-regional LTL carrier with a footprint of more than 280 nationwide terminals, says that existing LTL carriers with established hub-and-spoke networks will always command a presence. Yellow is the third-largest LTL concern.

While others are exploring new and different revenue streams, Hawkins believes that Yellow is concentrating on doing old fashioned LTL freight better and more efficiently than ever.

That belief recently caused Hawkins to exclaim: “I’m bullish on America, and I’m bullish on LTL. I think the reason so many people are interested in LTL is the barriers to entry are so high. Everyone who follows and is part of the industry is aware of that. We’ve just simply got a real estate portfolio that can’t be replicated.”

Hawkins adds that we should expect an economic rebound combined with pent-up demand next year for LTL freight services, which should make 2024 a banner year.

“We’ve got tremendous opportunity right here in front of us at Yellow, and that’s what we’re wholly focused on,” says Hawkins. “And we’re looking forward to what 2023 is going to bring, especially after the nice progress we had in 2022 of delivering improvements that we hadn’t seen in over 16 years. So, it’s an exciting time to be at Yellow.”

What’s your biggest fear?

Several executives of top-flight trucking companies were candidly asked about their biggest fears. It was not a calamitous economy. It wasn’t lack of availability of new equipment. And it wasn’t cost and availability of diesel fuel, still stubbornly priced just below $5 a gallon.

In fact, some top carrier executives confided to LM that their biggest fear is being hit with a so-called “nuclear verdict” in a truck accident negligence case. Ever since a highly publicized truck accident involving actor Tracy Morgan of Saturday Night Live fame and a Walmart truck in New Jersey in 2014, trucking executives admit to being scared straight.

Morgan, who survived serious injuries, settled out of court for an estimated $90 million. But hundreds of other far-less publicized cases involving heavy trucks are routinely settled for tens of millions of dollars.

“The biggest thing that keeps me awake at night is what’s happening with these verdicts in the courts,” says Pitt Ohio’s Hammel. “Even when it’s not the fault of the driver, just being involved is extremely costly. And it seems to be getting worse.

CFI’s Orr agrees: “These nuclear warrants are game-changers. One accident can shut you down. The motoring public are not professionals, no matter the amount of training you give.”

The key, insiders and executives say, is for carriers to partner with a great insurance group. “Biggest key is don’t underestimate the power of a professional driver,” Orr says. “We stock our trucks with every piece of safety equipment, including cameras on trucks so we can validate that we’re not the responsible party. The training piece is ultimately the key. Continuing education is vital. Safety is not an option.”

Advice for shippers

Carrier executives emphasized that the best way for shippers to aid in efficiency is to form long-term strategic partnerships with a group of core carriers to handle their ground freight needs.

“Many shippers do understand the value and competitive advantage that’s created by partnering with carriers who offer reliable, on-time service and low incidents of exceptions and claims, as well as the competitive advantage that can be created by working with a carrier that truly acts as an extension of their business,” says Kent Williams, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Averitt, the nation’s No. 11 LTL carrier.

“In previous cycles, there always seemed to be a carrier or two that would react to slowdowns by cutting rates to unsustainable levels in an effort to replace declining shipments due to softness in the economy,” adds Williams. “Most of those carriers are no longer in business.”

 

SC
MR

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From the May-June 2023 edition of Supply Chain Management Review.

May-June 2023

If you were dropped onto this planet and landed at McCormick Place in the heart of Chicago in the middle of March, you would probably conclude that planet Earth had been overrun by robots. Everywhere you turned on the…
Browse this issue archive.
Access your online digital edition.
Download a PDF file of the May-June 2023 issue.

This year’s annual listing of the nation’s top 50 trucking companies is a “who’s who” of the best in the industry. Ours is a compilation of the largest in both the truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers. To grow this big means they’re largely the best in service across the board—safety, service, culture, diversification, innovation, strategy and execution.

So, we thought it would be interesting to ask the chief executives of a few of these companies what they thought were common denominators when they look at the competitive landscape in trucking in 2023.

“Service stands out, but it’s also credibility,” says Chuck Hammel, president of Pitt Ohio, No. 15 by revenue on the LM list of LTL carriers. “It’s also a great culture and a caring attitude toward the employee, customer and community.”

According to Derek Leathers, chairman, CEO and president of Werner Enterprises, the No. 6 on this year’s TL carrier list, companies with a keen sense of purpose and core values can drive success through making them a central component of their overall strategy. “Honing in on a durable and multifaceted long-term strategy provides a sound blueprint to not only weather an economic storm or other challenges, but to thrive during times of uncertainty.”

“Diversification,” said Greg Orr, president of CFI, a major truckload carrier. “Not just in customers, but in service offerings. There are a lot of things that can help diversify a carrier. In fact, the top four or five truckload carriers have all dipped their toes into a different space the last five years or so.”

Mark Rourke, president and CEO of Schneider, No. 4 on the TL list, agrees with Orr’s assessment. “When we look at ourselves and our best competitors, what’s emerging is increased depth and diversification of services. Everybody has their mix of services.”

As an example, when Rourke first began in trucking more than 25 years ago, Schneider got approximately 90% of its revenue over the road. Now it’s more a 50/50 split between over-the-road, dedicated, intermodal rail and other modes, he says.

When asked what his common denominators were for top operators, trucking analyst Satish Jindel, principal of SJ Consulting Group, which compiles our annual top trucking lists, said discipline and pricing. “There’s a greater focus on getting paid properly for what they’re hauling.”

So, as the $830 billion trucking industry prepares for what could be the first full “normal” year since the pandemic caused tidal waves in supply and demand cycles, let’s examine what’s ahead for the best of the trucking industry in 2023.

Top 25 LTL Carriers ranked by 2022 revenues (Including fuel surcharges)

Rank

Carrier name

2021 Revenue
($ million)

2022 Revenue
($ million)

YoY % Change

2021-2022

1

FedEx Freight

$8,594

$10,186

18.5%

2

Old Dominion Freight Line

$5,177

$6,177

19.3%

3

Yellow Corporation

$5,078

$5,245

3.3%

4

XPO Logistics

$4,192

$4,645

10.8%

5

Estes Express Lines

$3,783

$4,405

16.4%

6

TFI International

$3,179

$4,023

26.6%

7

ABF Freight System

$2,518

$2,951

17.2%

8

R+L Carriers*

$2,427

$2,864

18.0%

9

Saia Motor Freight Line

$2,289

$2,792

22.0%

10

Southeastern Freight Lines

$1,476

$1,741

18.0%

11

Averitt Express

$1,093

$1,302

19.2%

12

Central Transport International *

$1,046

$1,236

18.2%

13

Dayton Freight Lines

$863

$1,056

22.4%

14

Forward Air

$831

$969

16.6%

15

Pitt Ohio Transportation Group

$792

$912

15.2%

16

AAA Cooper Transportation*

$653

$874

33.8%

17

A. Duie Pyle

$481

$568

18.1%

18

Daylight Transport

$380

$389

2.3%

19

Roadrunner Transportation*

$430

$386

-10.2%

20

Oak Harbor Freight Lines*

$284

$338

19.0%

21

Ward Trucking Corporation

$230

$256

11.2%

22

Magnum LTL

$118

$152

28.8%

23

Midwest Motor Express

$137

$152

10.9%

24

Dependable Highway Express

$117

$131

12.0%

25

Cross Country Freight Solutions*

$114

$130

14.0%

Total Top 25 LTL Carriers

$46,282

$53,881

16.4%

All Other Carriers*

$4,420

$4,841

9.5%

Total LTL Market

$50,702

$58,722

15.8%

*SJC estimates Prepared by SJ Consulting Group, Inc.

From the top

First and foremost, the search for qualified drivers continues, with demographics working against most carriers. However, there are signs that sharp increases in pay the last few years may be eating into a shortage that’s estimated at 83,000 drivers by the American Trucking Associations.

Second, the merger-and-acquisition rush may not match 2022’s madness, but several large truckload carriers may choose to grow by acquisition instead of organically.

Service stands out, but it’s also credibility…a great culture and a caring attitude toward the employee, customer and community.
— Chuck Hammel,
president of Pitt Ohio

Third, carriers feeling the need to replace aging equipment after COVID-related constraints limited their replacement tractor purchases the past two years may find the Class 8 market returning to normalcy.

In the meantime, all of this is occurring as the sectors of the market work to perfect autonomous vehicles as well as those propelled by fuels other than diesel. This is part of the Biden administration’s push to meet a stated goal of shifting all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales to zero-emission vehicles by 2040. The question remains: How realistic is that goal?

The economic outlook

Trucking is what economists call “a derived demand industry.” That means trucking can’t create economic activity much beyond the actual hauling of freight—which largely depends on the health of the economy.

Reading economic tea leaves is always a fool’s mission. If it were all that easy and accurate, top executives joke to one another, no one would be working in the thin-margin business of trucking.

“Who knows?” Hammel says when asked for his best economic outlook in this topsy-turvy time. “The economists sure seem to be puzzled as well.”

Others are a bit more opinionated in their economic forecasts. “I’m optimistic that by mid-year, maybe sooner, there will be a more normal cycle of replenishment as we turn through that excess inventory, whether that’s industrial or consumer,” says Schneider’s Rourke says.

Others agreed. “The spring push is around the corner,” says CFI’s Orr. “You will see things improve as inventories come down. The back half of the year will be a lot better than the first half.”

“What we expect is that through the first two quarters of this year we’ll see this softness as a result of freight that’s already moved, and then we start to move back into a more normal cycle,” said David Jackson, president and CEO of the largest truckload carrier, Knight-Swift, during a recent conference call.

Freight movement on U.S. roads, rails and through ports has slowed since the middle of 2022. That ended a boom in shipping during the pandemic, as retailers rushed goods through jammed logistics networks to meet strong consumer demand.

The Cass Freight Index, which measures domestic trucking and rail shipments in the United States, fell 3.3% from November to December. That was the fourth straight month-to-month decline. For all of 2022, the index ended down 3.9% from December 2021.

Top 25 Truckload Carriers Ranked by 2022 revenues (Including fuel surcharges)

Rank

Carrier name

2021 Revenue
($ million)

2022 Revenue
($ million)

YoY % Change

2021-2022

1

Knight-Swift Transportation

$4,098

$4,531

10.6%

2

J.B. Hunt Transport Services

$3,374

$4,461

32.2%

3

Landstar System

$2,932

$3,081

5.1%

4

Schneider National

$2,201

$2,787

26.6%

5

Prime

$2,207

$2,605

18.0%

6

Werner Enterprises

$2,023

$2,402

18.7%

7

Penske Logistics

$1,851

$2,300

24.3%

8

CRST International

$1,586

$1,853

16.8%

9

U.S. Xpress Enterprises

$1,568

$1,825

16.4%

10

Ryder Systems

$1,457

$1,786

22.6%

11

Crete Carrier Corp.

$1,304

$1,525

16.9%

12

Daseke

$1,249

$1,398

12.0%

13

CR England

$993

$1,209

21.8%

14

Western Express

$977

$1,138

16.5%

15

PS Logistics

$982

$1,104

12.4%

16

NFI Industries

$855

$1,100

28.7%

17

Ruan Transportation

$875

$985

12.6%

18

Heartland Express

$607

$968

59.4%

19

KLLM

$917

$953

3.9%

20

Marten Transport

$726

$930

28.0%

21

Stevens Transport

$702

$841

19.7%

22

Cardinal Logistics

$658

$821

24.8%

23

Covenant Transportation Group

$623

$752

20.6%

24

Anderson Trucking Service

$665

$750

12.7%

25

Hirschbach Motor Lines

$570

$735

28.9%

Total For Top 25 Carriers

$36,000

$42,840

18.9%

Prepared by SJ Consulting Group, Inc.

Driver picture improving?

For the first time in at least the last decade, when the subject of finding compliant, available drivers was broached, trucking executives didn’t flinch. Whether it’s improved pay—Walmart’s private fleet drivers earn around $110,000 a year if experienced—or simply greater exposure to the driver shortage, carriers say they’re finding a better supply of applicants.

“We’ve all benefited from publicity of the critical nature of supply chains and the essential nature of truck drivers,” says Rourke, noting that Schneider has raised pay by nearly 20% the past two years for most of its 12,000 company drivers. “The nature and stature of the driving position has been elevated, and we’re seeing a better supply of drivers entering the industry.”

Werner’s Leathers adds: “Albeit still a challenging market, the pressure to recruit and retain quality drivers has abated somewhat.”

Still, some warn of demographics working against the industry. Average age of a Teamster-covered driver is around 59. Most non-union companies trend younger, but only by a few years. “The more tenured drivers will face retirement in the next one to five years,” says Orr. “While we’re bringing on younger drivers, it’s not at the same pace to replace those retirements.”

One longer-term worry for carriers may be the fact that as the newly minted $1.2 trillion infrastructure program begins to be spent, construction jobs will outbid trucking companies for a similar pool of drivers. “The economy will come around, and so will finding drivers,” adds Hammel. “It seems that the problem is here to stay.”

Bullish on LTL

Darren Hawkins, CEO of Yellow Corp., which is transforming itself from three regional and one national carrier into a multi-regional LTL carrier with a footprint of more than 280 nationwide terminals, says that existing LTL carriers with established hub-and-spoke networks will always command a presence. Yellow is the third-largest LTL concern.

While others are exploring new and different revenue streams, Hawkins believes that Yellow is concentrating on doing old fashioned LTL freight better and more efficiently than ever.

That belief recently caused Hawkins to exclaim: “I’m bullish on America, and I’m bullish on LTL. I think the reason so many people are interested in LTL is the barriers to entry are so high. Everyone who follows and is part of the industry is aware of that. We’ve just simply got a real estate portfolio that can’t be replicated.”

Hawkins adds that we should expect an economic rebound combined with pent-up demand next year for LTL freight services, which should make 2024 a banner year.

“We’ve got tremendous opportunity right here in front of us at Yellow, and that’s what we’re wholly focused on,” says Hawkins. “And we’re looking forward to what 2023 is going to bring, especially after the nice progress we had in 2022 of delivering improvements that we hadn’t seen in over 16 years. So, it’s an exciting time to be at Yellow.”

What’s your biggest fear?

Several executives of top-flight trucking companies were candidly asked about their biggest fears. It was not a calamitous economy. It wasn’t lack of availability of new equipment. And it wasn’t cost and availability of diesel fuel, still stubbornly priced just below $5 a gallon.

In fact, some top carrier executives confided to LM that their biggest fear is being hit with a so-called “nuclear verdict” in a truck accident negligence case. Ever since a highly publicized truck accident involving actor Tracy Morgan of Saturday Night Live fame and a Walmart truck in New Jersey in 2014, trucking executives admit to being scared straight.

Morgan, who survived serious injuries, settled out of court for an estimated $90 million. But hundreds of other far-less publicized cases involving heavy trucks are routinely settled for tens of millions of dollars.

“The biggest thing that keeps me awake at night is what’s happening with these verdicts in the courts,” says Pitt Ohio’s Hammel. “Even when it’s not the fault of the driver, just being involved is extremely costly. And it seems to be getting worse.

CFI’s Orr agrees: “These nuclear warrants are game-changers. One accident can shut you down. The motoring public are not professionals, no matter the amount of training you give.”

The key, insiders and executives say, is for carriers to partner with a great insurance group. “Biggest key is don’t underestimate the power of a professional driver,” Orr says. “We stock our trucks with every piece of safety equipment, including cameras on trucks so we can validate that we’re not the responsible party. The training piece is ultimately the key. Continuing education is vital. Safety is not an option.”

Advice for shippers

Carrier executives emphasized that the best way for shippers to aid in efficiency is to form long-term strategic partnerships with a group of core carriers to handle their ground freight needs.

“Many shippers do understand the value and competitive advantage that’s created by partnering with carriers who offer reliable, on-time service and low incidents of exceptions and claims, as well as the competitive advantage that can be created by working with a carrier that truly acts as an extension of their business,” says Kent Williams, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Averitt, the nation’s No. 11 LTL carrier.

“In previous cycles, there always seemed to be a carrier or two that would react to slowdowns by cutting rates to unsustainable levels in an effort to replace declining shipments due to softness in the economy,” adds Williams. “Most of those carriers are no longer in business.”

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About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor, SCMR
John D. Schulz's Bio Photo

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.

View John's author profile.

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