Trucking news and briefs for Friday, July 23 2021:
Trucking coalition supports repeal of heavy truck tax
The Modernize the Truck Fleet, a coalition of trucking industry stakeholders – including the American Truck Dealers (ATD), American Trucking Associations and other groups – have announced their strong support for bipartisan legislation to repeal the 12% federal excise tax (FET) on the sale of heavy-duty trucks and trailers.
The bill, S. 2435, which was introduced by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) – both members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over transportation-related taxes – will help modernize America’s heavy-duty truck fleet and protect the 1.3 million jobs supported by the U.S. trucking industry, the group claimed. Repeal of the FET allows fleets to replace older heavy-duty trucks with newer, safer and greener trucks. The coalition is urging Congress to include the Young/Cardin legislation in the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
"With most heavy-duty trucks over ten years old, passing this bill is crucial to help America modernize its aging truck fleet," said Steve Bassett, ATD chairman and dealer principal of General Truck Sales in Muncie, Indiana.
The FET was first enacted by Congress in 1917 to help fund World War I and is the highest excise tax on a percentage basis that Congress levies on a product, often adding over $20,000 to the price of a new heavy-duty truck. The tax coupled with recent regulatory costs makes it more difficult for small businesses to afford a new truck.
Mark Parker, ATD NextGen chairman from Linthicum Heights, Maryland, added that "doing away with the FET will help small businesses replace older trucks with new trucks that have the latest safety features, which will reduce crashes and increase highway safety.”
Volvo debuts contract service
Volvo Trucks North America has rolled out its Volvo Blue Contract service offering, a comprehensive maintenance program designed to improve uptime, assist in optimizing truck performance and simplify maintenance management for customers and dealers.
The new Volvo Blue Contract provides a single premium service plan that replaces existing maintenance plans currently offered to customers, Volvo said.
With monthly or pre-paid billing options, Volvo said customers can pay either on a recurring basis or up front with the purchase of their truck, either billed directly or through their dealer. Volvo Financial Services (VFS) can bundle the Volvo Blue Contract with a truck payment on a single invoice. This total solution allows the customer to pay the cost of the maintenance contract over time, interest free, Volvo said.
“Well-maintained trucks increase overall fleet uptime and reduce overall cost of ownership. And a truck that is regularly and proactively inspected and serviced at a Volvo Trucks dealership by professional, trained technicians will likely be a safer truck while in operation,” said Ashley Murickan, product marketing manager, Volvo Trucks North America. “Additionally, the Volvo Blue Contract and its flexible billing options elevate our maintenance offering while simplifying the business transaction, ultimately benefiting both the customer and dealer.”
Select preventative maintenance is included with the Volvo Blue Contract to provide further benefits to customers. Volvo said the plan allows customers to have full insight into their trucks’ service costs up front, providing confidence that their fleet maintenance is fully covered under the contract scope. Service schedules are tailored to specific vehicle applications in order to assist with the trucks being in top condition. This maximizes uptime, minimizes unnecessary stops at dealerships and reduces unforeseen repairs.
Volvo adds its Blue Contract includes a 74-point inspection and oil analysis; all scheduled engine maintenance, including valve adjustments; all scheduled aftertreatment maintenance, including DPF cleaning; all scheduled transmission and scheduled axle maintenance; all scheduled chassis maintenance; fan belt tensioner and accessory drive belt tensioner replacements; and alternator coverage
Additional repairs, such as warranty work or more advanced diagnostics, can be completed under the same roof, so trucks do not need to be removed from operation for separate service visits, Volvo said.
Teamsters score another win within XPO
Drivers at XPO Logistics in Trenton, New Jersey, on Saturday, July 17 ratified their first contract with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one week after their co-workers in Miami did the same, and the two groups now have their rights and protections in a legally binding contract for the first time.
“For the second time in one week, XPO workers ratified their first contract at XPO despite XPO management saying workers would never ratify a contract,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “These two groups’ positive contract votes give other XPO workers the hope that they too can fight and win a more secure future as Teamsters.”
The group of 34 drivers at XPO in Trenton voted to join Local 701 in April 2017, but negotiations had been delayed.
“I’m happy to be joining our brothers in Miami who ratified their contract, and I look forward to expanding and improving upon this two-year agreement that gives us a strong foundation to build from,” said Bruce Ryan, a linehaul driver at the former Con-way Freight and XPO since 1996. “I also look forward to bringing more XPO members into the Teamsters Union so that they can also have their rights and protections in writing.”
The contract includes “just-cause” protections, a grievance process, successorship language, job protection language and retirement protections, among other improvements.
Uber Freight is set to acquire logistics technology firm Transplace for approximately $2.25 billion.
The acquisition, pending approvals and closing, will consist of up to $750 million in common stock of Uber Freight’s parent company Uber Technologies, and the remainder in cash. Uber Freight will acquire Transplace from TPG Capital, the private equity platform of alternative asset firm TPG.
“This is a significant step forward, not just for Uber Freight but for the entire logistics ecosystem,” said Lior Ron, Head of Uber Freight. “This is an opportunity to bring together complementary best-in-class technology solutions and operational excellence from two premier companies to create an industry-first shipper-to-carrier platform that will transform shippers’ entire supply chains, delivering operational resilience and reducing costs at a time when it matters most.”
Ron said Uber Freight has always been carrier-first in how it operates, but talking just with carriers doesn't help solve some of the industry's bigger issues, such as detention, payment issues and more. "At the end of the day, there's a shipper behind it," he said. "If we're just a broker, we can advocate for the carrier all day long, but if we aren't touching the other side and closing that loop, our impact would be limited."
“Our expectation is that shippers will see greater efficiency and transparency and carriers will benefit from the scale to drive improved operating ratios." Transplace CEO Frank McGuigan
He added that, following the closing of the acquisition, combining Uber Freight's connections with carriers and Transplace's connections with shippers will help bridge the gap between carriers and shippers using data to, "basically better serve carriers with being closer to shippers."
Transplace CEO Frank McGuigan noted the acquisition combines "the world’s premier shipper network platform with one of the industry’s most innovative supply platforms, to the benefit of all stakeholders,” he said. “Our expectation is that shippers will see greater efficiency and transparency and carriers will benefit from the scale to drive improved operating ratios. All in all, we expect to significantly reduce shipper and carrier empty miles to the benefit of highway and road infrastructures and the environment."
The companies said the buyout will give carriers the ability to work directly with shippers and access high-quality freight across multiple service lines, including intermodal, cross-border and LTL. Uber Freight’s brokerage will continue to operate independently from Transplace’s managed transportation services.
Following closing, Ron said there will be more opportunities for carriers using Uber Freight to access even more freight, as Transplace operates in some specialty industries, such as intermodal, petrol, chemicals and more.
"The important caveat is that choice will always be with the shipper," Ron said. "The shipper will decide – and Transplace is the trusted partner of the shipper – if that load is best in position to go to Uber Freight, or go to another partner, another carrier, another competitor of Uber Freight for Transplace, we'll stay hands-off of that decision because at the end of the day, the choice is of the shipper."
Transplace was acquired by TPG Capital in 2017. Over the course of the partnership, Transplace has invested heavily in technology and other growth initiatives.
The combination of Uber Freight and Transplace will combine Uber Freight’s network of digitally-enabled carriers with Transplace’s trusted shipper technology and operational solutions. The companies say the acquisition will result in a fully scaled logistics platform built to meet both shippers and carriers where they are, no matter the size of their business or their transportation needs.
Uber Freight said the transaction will allow it “to serve substantially more customers at all levels of the freight industry and will expand its presence into Mexico… through new capabilities in intermodal and customs brokerage.”
Maintenance costs are among the highest operational costs for fleets, behind only fuel and truck payments when it comes to vehicle-based costs, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s most recent Operational Costs of Trucking report.
One way to help control maintenance costs is for fleets to mitigate the chances of unscheduled roadside maintenance. As reported earlier this month, the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council found the average distance driven between unscheduled roadside repairs fell nearly 19% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
Marco Encinas, director of product management for fleet telematics provider Teletrac Navman, said fleets can use their existing telematics systems to help keep unscheduled maintenance in check.
He noted that the rise in unscheduled maintenance had a lot to do with the high freight demand during the pandemic, along with the current ongoing parts shortage.
“The one thing that we did see was a huge increase in vehicles, specifically OTR vehicles, during the COVID pandemic,” Encinas said. “Everybody was home, but the transportation industry was busier than ever. They had to keep trucks running as much as possible. It seems like some of the operators let some of that normal maintenance behavior sort of lax in order to get productivity out of their trucks and keep them on the road.”
On a day-to-day basis, Encinas said fleets should make sure their truck drivers are conducting required pre- and post-trip inspections each day, and help drivers better understand what to look for.
“It helps you schedule your maintenance for things that won’t take you off the road immediately, but you definitely have to get addressed sooner rather than later,” he said.
Utilizing tools from telematics service providers can also help drivers, as they allow fleets to customize a checklist of things to go over in addition to their normal inspections.
“When you do those pre-trip and post-trip inspections and actually do the work…that will get you ahead of any kind of maintenance issues and put you in the preventive maintenance mode rather than reactive,” Encinas said. “Then you can selectively take the truck off the road to get stuff done when it’s not necessarily scheduled to be earning any revenue.”
Encinas noted that Teletrac Navman’s system has a maintenance module that allows fleets to schedule routine maintenance for equipment based on miles driven that will alert the driver and maintenance department when the truck needs service.
Another usage case for telematics is keeping track of maintenance costs for each piece of equipment a fleet operates.
“It also helps you keep control of your costs and account for the costs that are going into maintaining your vehicles,” he said. “So, one thing is to do the daily maintenance and preventive maintenance of your vehicles to keep them on the road, but the other piece is now you can start looking at are you putting in more money into these vehicles in yearly maintenance than they’re generating? Maybe it’s time to swap out your truck and get a new one.”
One thing Encinas said Teletrac Navman has been working on, and continues to work on, is incorporating maintenance and productivity data of trucks as they run to determine the best time to schedule them for maintenance.
“There’s things that we’re doing on the telematics side to add more intelligence rather than run static reporting and static alerts, but also put more intelligence into it and help you make better decisions about when to take that truck in and stay ahead of the preventive maintenance.”
Interstate Personnel Services (IPS) has acquired Joplin, Missouri-based dry van truckload carrier Transport Distribution Company (TDC) and a related entity for an undisclosed amount. TDC, founded by Larry Kloeppel, has been operating since 1985.
"TDC’s regional coverage, focus on safety, providing high level service, disciplined management style and family culture are exactly what we are looking for as we build and increase overall capacity solutions for truckload shippers in the U.S.," said IPS President and CEO Dave Gibbs.
TDC will retain its name and current management team. Gibbs said it will operate autonomously under the IPS umbrella, and will continue to focus on providing premium regional service to customers throughout the Midwest and Central U.S.
"The timing was right for some of our family to retire out of TDC, and the geographical fit was perfect between our companies," said Regan Stephens, who will continue to serve as TDC President. "Dave Gibbs had my trust, not only because I had met Dave before, but also he kept gaining trust from day one of our negotiations. And the fact that our TDC people got to become part of a ESOP was a great benefit. The reasons that make this right for our people kept piling up.”
IPS and its primary subsidiary companies Paschall Truck Lines, Paschal Logistics, Paschall Trailer Leasing, and IPS Leasing was founded in 1937 and currently operates more than 1,000 units and 3,000 trailers in its truckload operations. IPS is a 100% Employee Owned (ESOP) company that provides one-way, dedicated, regional, long haul, logistics, and equipment leasing services in the U.S. and Mexico.
Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, July 22, 2021:
Hours regs waived for fuel haulers in two western states
Governors in South Dakota and Wyoming have issued emergency declarations that suspend hours of service regulations for certain haulers in the states.
The declarations apply to drivers hauling gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem’s order points to low inventories and outages of fuel, while the “return of normal supply flows to fuel terminals in South Dakota is not expected until early fall.”
The Wyoming order from Gov. Mark Gordon notes increased post-pandemic travel and an early and severe wildfire season in the region have both contributed to fuel shortages in the state.
Drivers transporting gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to either of the two states will be exempt from hours-of-service rules. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also clarified its emergency declaration rules, noting that the HOS waiver continues to apply to a driver after he or she has delivered the load, as long as he or she is returning to pick up more emergency relief supplies.
“For example, if the Governor of the State of Wyoming issues an emergency declaration for the transportation of aviation fuel for wildfire suppression, and a driver picks up aviation fuel in Nevada to be transported to Wyoming for wildfire suppression and the trip goes through Idaho into Wyoming, the trip is covered by the emergency declaration,” the agency said. “If the driver then heads back to Nevada to pick up more aviation fuel to deliver to Wyoming, the trip is still covered by the emergency declaration. But once the driver is no longer providing direct assistance to the state emergency, in Wyoming in this example, such as deadheading back to Nevada to pick up cargo not related to the Wyoming emergency, or later transporting aviation fuel again from Nevada to be delivered to a state not subject to a specified emergency declaration, the driver is no longer covered by the emergency declaration.”
The South Dakota waiver will expire no later than midnight, August 16, and the Wyoming waiver will expire no later than August 20.
WIT seeks carriers to participate in Diversity and Inclusion program
Women In Trucking and CarriersEdge are seeking applications for the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Index through the end of July. The Index will collect and celebrate diversity efforts across the North American trucking industry, recognizing outstanding efforts at WIT's Accerelate! conference in November.
The D&I Index is open to any for-hire or private fleet operating 10 trucks or more in the U.S. or Canada. Participation in the program starts with an application, and any current employee can apply on behalf of the company. After applying, companies will be provided with a questionnaire to collect details of current diversity and inclusion efforts. The questionnaire will be followed by an interview with company management, and a survey of employees.
The final results and recognition will be unveiled at WIT's Accelerate! conference, Nov. 7-9 in Dallas, Texas.
The application period will be open until midnight eastern time on July 31, 2021
Tractor-trailer driver John Doe was on a handsfree call with a fellow driver, cautiously going 25 mph in downtown traffic.
Doe hastily ended the conversation as he passed by a road, on his left, where he was supposed to turn. A quick glance to his left revealed his delivery location, a warehouse, up ahead.
Without a commercial GPS to calculate a new route, Doe did what he thought was the next-best thing and turned left at the next corner. This put him onto a residential road with an underpass. The clearance sign was marked at 13 feet, 1 inch.
Knowing his trailer stood 13 feet tall, Doe proceeded with extreme caution at a snail’s pace under the bridge. After several feet he stopped when he heard and felt an unmistakable bridge strike.
Was this accident preventable or not?
The National Safety Council ruled it was preventable. The sign may have been inaccurate, but the council noted it is foolish to gamble on a 1-inch clearance. Doe should have turned around and looked for a safer route.
Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, July 21, 2021:
Paper Transport partners with investment firm
Sam Zell’s private investment firm Equity Group Investments (EGI) recently invested in Paper Transport (CCJ Top 250, No. 112). EGI is partnering with Paper Transport’s senior management team, who will continue to lead the business and retain an ownership stake in the company.
The partnership provides additional capital for add-on acquisitions and strategic support for the organization’s growing truckload, intermodal and truck brokerage offerings. EGI President Mark Sotir, Managing Director Evan Harwood, Advisor Rob Silberman, and Senior Associate Tyler Goldstein are joining the De Pere, Wisconsin-based truckload fleet's board of directors.
“We’ve been impressed with Paper Transport’s management team, who have demonstrated an ability to grow, innovate and diversify the business during their tenure,” Sotir said. “One of our strengths is aligning with like-minded partners. EGI’s deep experience in the transportation industry and track record of scaling businesses, coupled with Paper Transport’s experienced leadership team and growth mindset, makes this partnership a win-win.”
Paper Transport was named a CCJ Innovator last year.
“After 30 years of steady growth, our partnership with EGI will accelerate our strategy,” said Jeff Shefchik, president of Paper Transport. “EGI has a history of doing things differently than what the marketplace has done – we believe that same strategy is what has led to Paper Transport’s success in the past. We believe partnering Paper Transport with EGI will allow us to outpace the industry in both innovation and growth.”
New nonprofit forms to help recruit trucking’s next generation
A recently launched nonprofit, The Next Generation in Trucking Association, is partnering with schools to provide CDL driver and diesel technician programs for young adults in Kentucky, Wisconsin and California.
The group was started by leaders in the trucking industry to engage the next generation of trucking industry professionals by partnering with both public and private schools and community/technical colleges to offer training opportunities that will eventually lead to jobs.
“Programs like this one are critical game changers for not only developing a skilled workforce but also creating pathways for that skilled workforce to advance in their careers in the trucking industry,” said Lindsey Trent, Ryder Customer and Business Development Manager and co-chair of Next Generation in Trucking. “We are eager to train, mentor and match a fresh generation of drivers to the 21st century needs and demands of the trucking industry.”
The Next Generation in Trucking Association aims to bring new drivers to the industry while at the same time providing access to well-paying careers to students without the need to incur college debt. Their goals of the group are to:
The Next Generation in Trucking Association partners with schools around the country to launch CDL programs that fit their needs. Recent partnerships include Lawrence County High School in Louisa, Kentucky; Jessamine Career and Technology Center, Nicholasville, Kentucky; Fairdale High School, Louisville, Kentucky; and Lux-Casco, Luxemburg, Wisconsin.
The Next Generation in Trucking Association has been approved by the U.S. Department of Labor as a Nationally Registered Apprenticeship Program for CDL Driving.
Benore purchases first EV truck
Benore Logistic Systems (CCJ Top 250, No. 144) recently announced the purchase of its first Peterbilt 579EV to be added to its fleet.
During an event at the company’s Greer, South Carolina, headquarters, Jeffery Benore, President and Owner, announced the implementation of an electric fleet. The goal is to add 50 electric class 8 tractors over the next two to three years and to convert half of the entire fleet over the next five to ten years to electric units.
By implementing an electric fleet, Benore will be able to reduce its carbon dioxide output by one metric ton for every 100 gallons of fuel saved, the company said.
Kenworth adds Hendrickson suspension option
Kenworth is now offering the Hendrickson Haulmaax EX as an option for the Kenworth T880, W990, T680 and T480 models.
The Hendrickson next-generation heavy-duty lightweight rubber suspension is designed for vocational applications such as dump, concrete mixer, refuse, logging, crane/boom, platform, and fire/rescue. The new suspension replaces the Hendrickson Haulmaax family of 40,000- and 46,000-pound capacity suspensions and also adds a new 52,000-pound capacity.
In addition to the increased capacity range, the Haulmaax EX provides a higher site rating and maintains the same weight and durability compared to its predecessor. The suspension utilizes a unique rubber spring design that balances empty-ride quality and loaded stability. Angled bolster springs and a unique progressive load spring provide extra stability for demanding applications such as refuse, concrete mixers and dumps.
In Feb. 2016, David Broyles was settling into a new role as Averitt Express' director of driver services when he attended an Omnitracs user conference in Nashville. He was intrigued by a service he discussed with an exhibitor, Atlantic HR Solutions, for managing per diem driver pay.
When Broyles mentioned the benefits of per diem pay to Averitt’s chief financial officer, the response was “we’re not getting into that mess. That will not help anybody,” he said.
Shortly after this exchange, Averitt got a new CFO. Boyles again discussed per diem pay and set up a meeting between Atlantic HR and Averitt’s executive team. After evaluating the data with accountants and lawyers, the new CFO was onboard.
Averitt Express has been paying drivers a daily per diem rate since January 1, 2017.
“It made such a difference in pay,” Broyles said. “Luckily we did it when we did.”
The trucking industry was going through a downturn in 2017. Averitt was unable to do a pay increase for drivers, but made it possible for them to net more money. Broyles credits Averitt's per diem pay for a four percent reduction in driver turnover in 2017. Today, virtually all if its drivers are in the program..
“Per diem made sense for everybody across the board,” he said.
Averitt’s driver turnover rate has been trending down every year since 2017. Last year it ended at 39% in the over-the-road division. This year, amid a severe driver shortage, its annualized turnover rate is at 47%, he noted.
The tax advantages
A lot of fleets offer per diem programs because drivers are asking for it, but owners and executives may not understand the tax advantages, said Kehl Carter, chief executive and founder of Atlantic HR Solutions.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Trump in Dec. 2017, increased the standard IRS tax deduction for individuals but removed the ability for company employees to deduct travel expenses. The change makes it easier for more people to file a short form for federal taxes, Carter said.
Owner-operators do not get the same tax advantages as company drivers, but they can deduct per diem by filing a Schedule C with their federal taxes.
Company-sponsored per diem programs were not impacted by the new tax law. Motor carriers are still able to allocate $66 per day, which amounts to between $300 and $400 of income each week shifting to the tax-free column.
Using per diem to shelter income saves about 30% in taxes. This increases drivers’ take-home pay by about $100 a week, Carter explains. Over a typical year of 50 workweeks, drivers see an increase in take-home pay by approximately $5,000.
Without a per diem program, motor carriers would need to increase driver pay by more than $8,500 a year to put the same $5,000 into their pockets, he said. Drivers who use their company per diem programs still can use the standard deduction and file a short-form federal tax return.
Since per diem reduces drivers’ payroll tax withholdings it also saves motor carriers significant money by reducing their matching amount of state and federal payroll taxes. By doing so, carriers in most states also pay less in workers comp premiums, Carter said.
For drivers who are concerned that paying lower taxes will have a negative impact on future Social Security benefits, Carter said the math shows they have no reason to worry.
To calculate retirement benefits, the Social Security administration uses a taxpayer’s highest years of earnings for a 35-year period. The income is averaged and tied to a monthly index. The first $800 of income from the index is paid at 90%. The second tier of income, from $800 to $5,000, is paid at a 32% rate.
To illustrate how per diem would impact the Social Security calculation for drivers, Kehl uses an example of $1,900 a week in taxable income. Whether or not a driver uses per diem, his Social Security benefits will be no different for the first $800. Per diem pay would only impact his benefits for income between $800 and $1,900, which is paid at the lower 32% rate.
The math shows that drivers are better off with an extra $100 a week in take-home pay and saving a portion of it, such as $20, in an IRA. When the driver retired at 67 years old, the extra income would far exceed the minimal reduction in Social Security benefits, he explains.
“It is much better to take $100 a week home to your family to decrease debt or put into a third-party investment tool,” he said.
Data collected by electronic logging devices (ELDs) can be used to verify when and where drivers qualify for per diem pay.
About eight years ago, Omnitracs developed a program called Per Diem Manager that integrates with Atlantic HR Solutions software to automate per diem calculations and the substantiation process required by the IRS for record keeping.
Motor carriers and drivers do not need receipts for meals. What they do need is a record of the date, time and location to show each day where they could or should have stopped for a meal on the road, Carter said.
Omnitracs’ Per Diem Manager captures all of this information for substantiation. The record includes both the distance a driver was from home and whether or not they spent a night away.
Atlantic HR also integrates with other ELD providers and with back-office software systems to automatically move the appropriate amount of income, based on the daily per diem rate of $66, from taxable to non-taxable columns.
The Omnitracs and Atlantic HR program has a small charge, per driver, that is applied only when drivers have per diem pay in a given week. Most carriers cover this cost for their drivers, Carter said.
Atlantic HR has a call center to answer per diem questions from drivers. The company does this so that payroll departments of motor carriers do not have to be tax professionals, he said.
American Trucking Associations’ advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index decreased 1.5% in June after falling 1% in May, however, the June index equaled 111.6 compared with 113.3 in May.
ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello noted that tonnage has flattened out, on average, over the last six to nine months, adding that "the good news is that it remains slightly above 2020 levels."
“Supply chain issues are likely putting some downward pressure on tonnage,” he said. “But it is also likely that tonnage isn’t growing as much as it could because of industry-specific supply constraints. This index is dominated by contract freight, and the for-hire truckload carriers have seen their tractor counts fall because they are having difficulty finding qualified drivers. It is difficult to move more tonnage with less equipment, which is why we are seeing strong volumes in the spot market as shippers scramble to get loads moved.”
May’s reading was revised down slightly to -1% from ATA's estimation released June 22. Compared to June 2020, the SA index rose 0.5%, which was preceded by a 3.3% year-over-year increase in May. Year-to-date, compared with the same six months in 2020, tonnage is up 0.3%. The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 116.2 in June, 2.4% above the May level (113.4).
Spot market softening but still above $3/mile
ATA’s For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index heavily weights contract freight as opposed to spot market freight, but data from Truckstop.com and FTR Transportation Intelligence for the week ended July 16 suggest that after more than a year of stress, spot volumes in dry van and refrigerated freight might finally be starting to return to normal.
Volumes can be volatile surrounding holiday weeks but, generally, load availability in a post-holiday week will recover at least a portion of the volume lost during the holiday week. However, total load postings in the Truckstop.com system fell 5.6%, and the declines in dry van and refrigerated were similar to those during the week that included the Independence Day holiday. Flatbed volume was up 3.6%, which is not a strong figure either given that the prior week had included an observed federal holiday. However, because the actual holiday fell on a weekend, expected impacts on the market both heading into and out of the holiday might be distorted.
Although the lack of a partial recovery from the holiday week was a surprise, seasonal weakness is typically expected after June. The market saw no seasonality in the rebound last year. Truckstop.com noted that upward pressure is unlikely comparable to last year, but that the economy will see additional stimulus in the form of monthly advance child tax credit payments that began last week. Meanwhile, many supply chains are still constrained, and capacity remains tight for a variety of reasons. For example, one major rail carrier has temporarily suspended inbound intermodal shipments from most West Coast ports. All this disruption is supporting spot market volumes even if they aren’t staying at the stratospheric levels that have been experienced over the last year.
Although the tax credits and other disruptions might still lead to another boost, pricing in the spot market might have peaked until yearend holiday moves. Rates have declined in five of the last seven weeks. The broker-posted rate per mile excluding fuel surcharges fell less than 2 cents last week and remains about 36% above the same 2020 week.
Total truck postings edged up 0.3%, although the increase was principally focused in flatbed. The Market Demand Index fell to 149.4, which is the lowest level since early February.
Load volumes decreased 13% week-over-week, even though the daily high point for last week was 1,014,000. Capacity remained constrained at 32.01 week-over-week, according to Truckstop.com (the 5-year average is 88.00).
Rates fell 1 cent to $3.06/mile (46 weeks above $2.40. The 5 year average is $2.28). Van rates, according to Truckstop.com, decreased a penny to $2.72; flatbed slid 1 cent to $3.12; and reefer decreased 5 cents to $3.20.
Outbound tender rejections saw a small decrease to 23.12 from 24.95, meaning almost one of every four loads are being rejected.
Truck leases and rentals grew during a surge of ecommerce shopping last year and have continued score with fleets “desperate for trucks” amid rising demand and an ongoing microchip shortage that's hampered new truck production.
To help meet demand, Enterprise Truck Rental plans to open a new location in Macon, Ga. about 80 miles south of Atlanta near truck-heavy Interstate 75, according to Fox affiliate WGXA. A map on Enterprise’s website shows eight truck rental locations in the Atlanta area and none in Macon.
Brisk truck and van rentals brought on by growing online sales combined with a shortage in new truck inventory have helped to counter losses incurred during the pandemic for Enterprise’s car rental division.
“Our truck business has seen an uptick in demand for rentals due to the COVID-related rise of ecommerce and online shopping,” said Enterprise Truck Rental Vice President Mike Pugh.
“Typically, we see a natural peak in demand for our business several times throughout the year, particularly in the summer and holiday seasons where demand doubles,” Pugh added.
The chip shortage has also brought on additional business.
Budget Commercial Trucks“In addition, the ongoing increased demand for new vehicles coupled with the automotive global chip shortage manufacturers are experiencing has led to an even larger spike in business as companies seeking alternative transportation options turn to truck rentals as a solution,” Pugh continued.
Though new truck production has tanked, Enterprise feels prepared to meet increased demand.
"The automotive global chip shortage has certainly impacted the industry," Pugh said. "But we’ve taken a proactive and thoughtful approach with our fleet so that we can keep it fresh as we normally would and be prepared to meet increased demand from customers. We’ve been able to maintain vehicle availability to support our customers’ ongoing transportation needs as they deal with peak business demand and the continued rise of ecommerce."
Avis Budget Group, which rents trucks and cars through separate divisions, said there’s been “encouraging signs in the U.S.” as Covid restrictions relax around the globe prompting more travel and commerce.
“Rapid, uneven global recovery from COVID has led to an evolving travel recovery and rental market that has no precedence,” an Avis Budget Group representative said.
Some of Budget Truck Rental’s most notable business of late is leaning more on personal use instead of commercial.
“Within the U.S. one of the busiest markets for truck rentals is California where people are often renting larger trucks to move,” the Avis rep added.
As demand continues for more trucks and vans in a tight market, Penske Truck Leasing remains confident in meeting customer needs.
“We continue to help customers navigate these uncertain times using our rental assets, new build slots and ability to redeploy underutilized assets,” said Jim Lager, senior vice president of sales. “We also can help with our supply chain and dedicated contract carriage products. We have dedicated build slots for the balance of 2021 and 2022.”
Lager credits Penske’s large, diverse inventory in helping them to navigate the pandemic and tight days ahead.
“Having the largest rental fleet in the industry gave us an advantage,” he said. “The ability to redeploy or move assets from businesses that were suffering, to businesses that were thriving, was an advantage. Because of our strong partnerships we have better access to inventory.”
Only so many trucks to go aroundStrong partnerships or not, FTR Vice President Don Ake, a commercial vehicle analyst, is concerned that leasing and rental opportunities will dry up as demand remains strong for both new and used trucks.
Ritchie Bros. reported this week that “unprecedented demand” had driven used tractor-trailer prices up 30% year-over-year through its auction and marketplace venues.
In its latest Commercial Truck Guidelines report released Thursday, J.D. Power reported that “Retail selling prices continue to accelerate. The newest available sleeper tractors are breaking records.” A benchmark group of 4 to 6 year-old trucks brought in 85.8% more revenue for the first six months of 2021 versus the same time period in 2020.
“Fleets are desperate for more trucks,” Ake said. “Right now the spot market prices are at record levels and that's partially the result of fleets not being able to get more trucks on the road. Fleet capacity utilization is super tight. The remedy is to get more trucks, but we can't get enough new trucks on the road fast enough.”
The chip shortage has reduced new truck inventories 26% from 2019, Ake said. Though chip production is expected to increase “in the next few months,” Ake said a healthy rebound will take time.
“Even if the chip constraint went away next week, they still wouldn't be able to build all the trucks they wanted to build,” he said. “And we're seeing that on the trailer side too where they’re not constrained by microprocessors but by a number of other factors like labor that's holding things back.”