The American Trucking Associations (ATA) recently released its annual report, ATA American Trucking Trends. According to their report, the news for the industry is quite good.
The big story is that last year, trucking totaled $700.4 billion in revenue, well above its pre-recession peak of $660.3 billion—and the first time the industry has ever broken the $700 billion mark. The increase has allowed carriers to reinvest in their companies by upgrading their fleets. Newer fleets have better average fuel efficiency, improved safety mechanics, and more trucks with high-tech features, like GPS tracking and collision avoidance systems. Class 8 truck orders were actually the second highest in history last year, at 375,000 units.
Trucking as a whole employs over 7 million people, almost half of them drivers. For perspective, that means that the pool of American truck drivers is now almost as big as the entire population of Los Angeles. Yet still, there is a shortage of drivers. Carriers could hire many more if they could attract and retain more qualified people.
And yet, the total capacity of America’s cargo trucks is still a lot lower than the pre-recession peak. That means that while total capacity is growing, the added revenue comes in part from shippers paying higher rates. Overall, America’s trucks still move less cargo than they did eight or nine years ago.
American trucking is worth watching, not just for industry insiders, but for anyone interested in the economy as a whole. According to the ATA, 68.8% of all domestic freight moves on trucks and over 80% of freight spending goes to trucking. That means that both the price and the total volume of most goods sold or processed in the United States are intimately connected with the health of the trucking industry. As for the roads themselves, in 2013, commercial trucks paid over $16 billion in Federal highway user fees, aiding in funding maintenance and upkeep of U.S. highways.
This sector drives, and is directly driven by, the strength of the economy as a whole.
Still, the trucking industry itself makes an important and fascinating story. For example, since Deregulation, the number of carriers has ballooned to over 1.3 million. And yet the revenue of the largest 50 of these grew faster than that of the industry as a whole in recent years. Nearly 17% of the industry’s total revenue goes to these 50 companies alone.
For those who want to explore further, the full Trends report is available for purchase from the ATA’s website.