Top 50 Trucking Carriers 2022: Pedal to the metal

Leading carrier executives say a key strategy for staying on top is creating a company culture that “sets the tone for everything and everybody.” Investing in new equipment, driver training and salaries doesn’t hurt either.

In the mid-1990s, a trucking entrepreneur named Bob Robertson, then ascending to the top ranks of the industry as chief of Con-way Inc., turned some heads with a statement that every trucking executive should have memorized. When asked about his company’s success, Robertson thought a minute and then recited a line made famous by management guru Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast seven days a week.”

Con-way is long gone—now a part of XPO Logistics—and Robertson has retired to Florida. But the quote still works. When considering what keeps the Top 50 carriers atop Logistics Management’s annual listing during the uneven freight years since the COVID-19 pandemic upended nearly everything, betting on a company’s culture is still relevant today.

“Culture is first and foremost,” says Greg Orr, president of CFI and executive vice president for U.S. truckload for TFI, the 17th-largest TL carrier. “It sets the tone for everything and everybody.”

The secret to a great company’s culture, Orr explains, “is having the right players with you who are as good or better than you. Having a committed group who know where we need to improve and are able to tie everything to that. Then they have ownership and take accountability to drive you to the results that you need.”

Of course, performing the “nuts and bolts” of trucking—doing the job safely and efficiently for all customers at fair rates—is tantamount to success.

“When I think of the top carriers, it’s safety and service,” says Darren Hawkins, CEO of Yellow Corp., which controls 10% of the less-than-truckload (LTL) market as the 3rd-largest LTL carrier. “That was the case when I began in this industry 30 years ago, and it’s still the case today.”

Analysts say that the best, most profitable trucking companies are that way because they price their services—all of them, including accessorials such as inside delivery or specialized handling—correctly and accurately. Such accessorials used to be about 5% of revenue in the $46 billion LTL sector. They’re now close to 10%, a sign of overall health of the LTL sector which collectively posted an 85 operating ratio (OR) last year.

“They have discipline in charging for the services they’re providing,” says Satish Jindel, principal of SJ Consulting, which closely tracks the profitability of the industry. “The best carriers don’t let shippers allow drivers to wait for hours at their docks. They charge for detention and special services.”

Let’s take a deeper dive into what’s keeping the best carriers in the Logistics Management Top 50. They’re producing some of their best incomes during a period when the pandemic ruined long-term planning, inflation is wreaking havoc with budgets and qualified drivers are in short supply. Let’s better understand why this is happening.

Top 25 Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Carriers: 2021 Revenues

(Including fuel surcharges)

Rank Carrier name 2020 Revenue
$ million
2021 Revenue
$ million
YoY % Change
1 FedEx Freight* $7,115 $8,594 20.80%
2 Old Dominion Freight Line* $3,961 $5,177 30.70%
3 Yellow Corp* $4,488 $5,078 13.10%
4 XPO Logistics* $3,575 $4,192 17.30%
5 Estes Express Lines $3,068 $3,783 23.30%
6 TFI International (US Only)* $2,898 $3,179 9.70%
7 ABF Freight System* $2,036 $2,518 23.70%
8 R+L Carriers $1,973 $2,427 23.00%
9 Saia Motor Freight Line* $1,822 $2,289 25.60%
10 Southeastern Freight Lines $1,256 $1,476 17.50%
11 Averitt Express $831 $1,093 31.50%
12 Central Transport Int'l $871 $1,046 20.10%
13 Dayton Freight Lines $669 $863 29.00%
14 Forward Air* $626 $831 32.70%
15 Pitt Ohio Transportation Group $653 $780 19.40%
16 AAA Cooper Transportation $592 $653 10.30%
17 A. Duie Pyle $380 $481 26.60%
18 Roadrunner Transportation $430 $430 0.00%
19 Daylight Transport $270 $380 40.70%
20 Oak Harbor Freight Lines $237 $284 19.80%
21 Central Freight Lines $256 $262 2.30%
22 Ward Trucking Corporation $183 $230 25.70%
23 Midwest Motor Express $120 $137 14.20%
24 Magnum LTL $74 $118 59.50%
25 Dependable Highway Express $87 $117 34.50%
TOTAL TOP 25 LTL CARRIERS $38,482 $46,418 20.60%
ALL OTHER CARRIERS $3,623 $4,284 18.20%
TOTAL LTL MARKET $42,105 $50,702 20.40%

*Publicly Traded Company
Note 1: Revenue for U.S. LTL operations primarily, and includes revenue from fuel surcharge and shipments weighing over 10,000 pounds
Note 2: Shipment volume increased by 7.1% and tonnage by 7.7% in 2021 over 2020
Note 3: Fuel surcharge represented 2.9% increase in revenue in 2021 over 2020
Note 4: With 2021 having 1 to 2 fewer operating days than 2020, revenue per day was even higher than listed above.
Source: Companies and SJ Consulting Group estimates
Prepared by SJ Consulting Group, Inc.

Top 25 Truckload Carriers: 2021 Revenues

Rank Carrier name 2020 Revenue
$ million
2021 Revenue
$ million
YoY % Change
1 Knight-Swift Transportation* $3,786 $4,098 8.20%
2 J.B. Hunt Transport* $2,659 $3,374 26.90%
3 Landstar System* $2,033 $2,932 44.20%
4 Prime $2,088 $2,207 5.70%
5 Schneider National* $2,066 $2,201 6.50%
6 Werner Enterprises* $1,826 $2,023 10.80%
7 Penske Logistics $1,101 $1,851 68.10%
8 CRST International $1,388 $1,586 14.30%
9 U.S. Xpress Enterprises* $1,513 $1,568 3.60%
10 Ryder Dedicated Solutions* $1,229 $1,457 18.60%
11 Crete Carrier Corp. $1,171 $1,304 11.40%
12 Daseke* $1,182 $1,249 5.60%
13 PS Logistics $832 $982 18.10%
14 Western Express $722 $977 35.40%
15 Ruan Transportation $812 $875 7.80%
16 CR England $888 $861 -3.00%
17 TFI International* $714 $856 19.90%
18 NFI Industries $756 $855 13.10%
19 Marten Transport* $689 $726 5.40%
20 Stevens Transport $638 $702 10.10%
21 Anderson Trucking Service $600 $665 10.90%
22 Cardinal Logistics $620 $658 6.20%
23 Covenant Transportation * $591 $623 5.50%
24 Heartland Express* $645 $607 -5.90%
25 Mercer Transportation $480 $602 25.40%
TOTAL TOP 25 TRUCKLOAD CARRIERS $31,029 $35,839 15.30%

Residual COVID effects on costs

The pandemic has upended everyone’s plans. New truck orders are being cut by a third or more because of the worldwide shortage of microchips. And if this past year has convinced trucking executives of anything, it’s that those shortages of certain goods and gadgets can occur at any time.

Chuck Hammel, president of Pittsburgh-based Pitt Ohio, the 15th-largest LTL carrier, says that buying new Class 8 trucks is like playing roulette. Sometimes your number comes up, sometimes it doesn’t.

Hammel related a quick story of a big truck manufacturer telling him that 15 of his new trucks were being delayed because of lack of sideview mirrors. He was incredulous. “That’s a piece of equipment that probably costs $15,” he says. “But it held up our order for four months.”

Experts who watch this market closely say get used to it. Supply chain disruptions have become our new normal, and everyone should expect them in the foreseeable future. Then, there’s cost. New Class 8 trucks exceed $150,000 these days, but used truck valuations have soared as well.

“Availability of equipment is a big factor,” says Avery Vise, trucking analyst for research firm FTR. “A three-year-old used truck costs as much as a new one.”

It’s the same on the truckload side. “The strategy seems to change daily nowadays,” says CFI’s Orr. “With the pandemic, supply chain disruptions and the driver shortage, inflationary pressures are on everything.”

The hunt for drivers

It would be great if we could report trucking companies have solved their decades-old driver shortage—but that would be overly optimistic.

In fact, most trucking execs say it’s worse than it’s ever been. The American Trucking Associations estimates that we’re currently short about 80,000 qualified drivers. What’s even harder to believe is the projection that the industry will need 1 million new drivers over the next decade.

Yellow Corp. has decided to take recruiting in-house. It recently added two new driving academies to its stable of 14 schools to prepare the next generation of professional truck drivers for careers in transportation. They’re tuition-free and designed to help ease the driver shortage.

“I don’t think that any trucking company has all the drivers it needs,” says Yellow’s Hawkins. “But playing musical chairs is not the answer.” Still, the best companies have persevered through internal recruitment and training of new drivers rather than “poaching” drivers from rivals.

“It’s not easy, but we’ve added 1,800 drivers in the past year,” says Kevin “Marty” Freeman, executive vice president and COO of Old Dominion Freight Lines. “About 600 have graduated from our internal driving school. It hasn’t been easy, but we feel we’ve kept up with the influx of freight.”

Partially to appease drivers and to keep its fleet young, CFI is acquiring 770 Kenworth T-680 Next Generation tractors. They’re equipped with safety technologies and driver conveniences most in demand by today’s drivers. It’s also buying 250 new 53-foot trailers, including 100 dry-van general freight trailers and 150 refrigerated trailers supporting the growth of its reefer unit.

However, with that comes higher costs. CFI’s 3,000 drivers recently received a two-cents-a-mile pay hike that Orr says probably won’t be the last raise of 2022. “I’ve been here four years and we’ve had no less than one pay increase a year,” he says. “There’s probably another one coming this year. We’re trying to boost our pay to stay competitive, but we also have competitors out there doing pretty astronomical things.”

Carrier executives count four specific spikes or changes in the COVID variant that has disrupted supply chains, and they’ve had to find new ways to communicate with customers, employees and their original equipment manufacturers. “A big piece to me is trying to figure out how to do business in a different manner since we weren’t sitting in front of customers and drivers face to face,” says Orr. “We’re used to having that open culture where everybody is accessible, and it’s been hard.”

Facing new challenges

Carrier executives agree that there were several challenges in both global and U.S. supply chains that they’ll all have to face together this year.

“There are no easy fixes to the challenges that shippers may experience in the LTL marketplace or within any other segment of the supply chain this year,” says Kent Williams, executive vice president of sale and marketing for Averitt Express. “Carriers are helping shippers navigate these unique times.”

For instance, Averitt is encouraging customers to take advantage of crossdocking at its facilities located near seaports. This allows them to invest in staging safety stock within distribution and fulfillment centers and to consider using inland ports such as the Appalachian Regional Port or Inland Port Greer in South Carolina.

These are a few ways carriers and shippers can work together to bypass some of the congestion, and to also avoid potentially expensive per diem and demurrage fees, carrier executives said. “Simply put, it’s going to take a bit of time for LTL capacity and demand to reach an equilibrium,” predicts Williams.

The rate situation

Everything in trucking works like a pendulum. Supply-and-demand equations swing back and forth. But there’s no doubt that in 2022, carriers have the upper hand.

In fact, nothing blares recovery more than Yellow’s balance sheet for last year. While its LTL tonnage declined 3.3%, its revenue per hundredweight rose a whopping 16.4% year over year. Excluding the fuel surcharge, it was up 12.5%.

ABF Freight System, the nation’s 7th-largest LTL carrier, achieved an 89.9 operating ratio for last year. As a result of the Teamsters’ profit-sharing plan with ABF, that kicked in a 3% bonus for all covered ABF employees on top of their yearly earnings, estimated to be at least $70,000. ABF parent ArcBest Corp. had a net income last year of $213.5 million, up from $71.1 million in 2020.

Old Dominion Freight Line reported net income rising 53.8% to a record $1.03 billion profit in 2021. As for rates, Old Dominion’s Freeman says that “with inflation we’re experiencing rising prices on everything from steel to aluminum. We feel we have to raise our prices to keep our value proposition and maintain profitability. As long as we keep our service levels where they are, I think our customers understand.”

The long-beleaguered LTL industry, once seen as moribund, led all trucking sectors with a collective 85 OR last year, outperforming both truckload and parcel, according to SJ Consulting.

“It’s a wonderful time to be in trucking, especially LTL,” adds SJ analyst Jindel. “I don’t see any end to this for the next two or three years.

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