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Trucking Industry Turmoil & Closures in 2023 & 2024

By Ken Miller, Host of The Haul of Fame Podcast

The trucking industry serves as the backbone of our supply chain, quietly ensuring the movement of goods across vast distances. However, when major trucking companies cease operations, the repercussions are widespread, impacting companies, drivers, business owners, and consumers alike. Known for its competitiveness and unforgiving nature, the trucking industry faces challenges that can have far-reaching consequences. In this article, we will examine the recent wave of trucking company bankruptcies and analyze their implications for the industry in 2024.

Notable trucking company bankruptcies, such as those of Yellow Corp and Convoy, underscore the vulnerabilities present in the industry. Factors contributing to these bankruptcies include economic pressures, operational inefficiencies, and intense competition. Throughout this discussion, we will explore the volatile nature of the trucking market and the factors influencing it, such as economic downturns, escalating operational expenses, and technological deficiencies that have triggered significant disruptions.

Closure statistics:

– In 2023, approximately 88,000 trucking companies ceased operations, along with 8,000 freight brokers.
– Trucking demand in 2020 saw a 30% increase in volumes compared to 2023.
– Following the pandemic, railroad shipping volumes dropped by 20% with no recovery, last-mile deliveries surged by 10x, and ocean shipping decreased by 25%.
– Major trucking companies are grappling with escalating operational costs: Driver wages represented 32% of all trucking-related costs in 2022, while driver benefits accounted for an additional 8%.
– A projected 8.8% rise in e-commerce sales in 2024 indicates that the trucking industry will need to adjust to increased hub-and-spoke demand with box truck and localized services.
– Small carriers dominate the market, with 95% share, where 95.8% of fleets operate 10 or fewer trucks and 99.7% operate 100 or fewer trucks in 2023, according to the HDT 2023 Fact Book. This highlights that a significant portion of US trucking capacity, stemming from the “invisible fleet,” remains untapped due to a lack of technology and centralized marketplace.
– The box truck market was valued at USD 12.9 billion in 2023, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% between 2024 and 2032.
– In 2023, there were 1,183 cargo theft incidents, resulting in an average loss of $586,917 per incident, totaling $694,327,811 in stolen goods.

Closures in 2023:

Yellow Corp: In August 2023, Yellow Corp filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, marking the largest bankruptcy filing in US trucking history.

Convoy: As of October 2023, Convoy ceased operations following a series of layoffs and downsizing efforts.

Matheson Trucking: In December 2023, Matheson Trucking announced plans to wind down operations due to financial disputes.

Surge Transportation: In late July 2023, Surge Transportation filed for bankruptcy after facing significant operational and financial challenges.

Elite Transit Solutions: In late November 2023, Elite Transit Solutions closed operations after having its broker authority revoked.

Meadow Lark Agency: A 40-year-old Montana-based company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in early November 2023.

Transplus: In June 2023, Transplus filed for bankruptcy, impacting several small trucking companies that had not been compensated for their services.

Closures in 2024:

Arnold Transportation Services: Acquired by Pride Group Logistics in February 2022, this 92-year-old Grand Prairie, Texas-based company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in May 2024, along with its affiliated companies.
Tony’s Express: This 70-year-old California trucking company abruptly ceased operations in May 2024, leaving over 200 employees without jobs.

Flagship Transport: A Miami-Dade trucking company that ceased operations in May 2024, facing demands from unpaid drivers and leaving workers uncertain about their financial losses and futures.

Nearly 88,000 trucking companies and 8,000 freight brokerages ceased operations in 2023.

Yellow Corp Expanded:

When it comes to a trucking company shutting down, Yellow Corp, one of the largest less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers in the US, faced significant challenges. In August 2023, Yellow Corp filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, marking a significant event in the freight industry. To address their financial obligations, Yellow Corp sold off most of its shipping centers and real estate to various buyers, using the proceeds to repay debts amounting to $1.2 billion, including a $700 million COVID-19 relief loan from the U.S. Treasury Department approved during the administration of former President Donald Trump in 2020.

The bankruptcy filing by Yellow Corp had far-reaching consequences, resulting in the loss of jobs for 30,000 individuals. Industry analysts observed that legacy carriers like Yellow Corp, with unionized workforces, often face higher pension and healthcare obligations compared to non-union competitors. These financial commitments can strain their operations, especially during challenging economic periods, compounded by factors like rising fuel costs and driver shortages that further exacerbated their financial instability.

Several factors contributed to Yellow Corp’s downfall. The company had been grappling with financial difficulties for years, stemming from the acquisitions of firms such as Roadway and USF in the early 2000s, which left Yellow Corp burdened with substantial debt. The impact of the 2008 recession further compounded these financial challenges, ultimately leading to Yellow Corp being among the trucking companies that closed down in 2023. By the first quarter of the year prior to the bankruptcy filing, Yellow Corp had accumulated approximately $1.47 billion in total debt, far surpassing its assets valued at around $806 million.

Internal management issues also plagued Yellow Corp, with ongoing disputes between the company and the Teamsters union, which represented Yellow’s employees, over issues such as missed benefit payments. The bankruptcy of Yellow Corp highlighted the difficulties faced by legacy carriers and unionized workforces, underscoring the weight of financial obligations and debt in such competitive and volatile industries.

Convoy Expanded:

Convoy, a once-promising technology-driven freight network, closed its operations in October 2023 following the insolvency of cargo carriers. Founded in 2015, this digital freight brokerage employed 500 people and connected with 80,000 carriers. At its peak, Convoy reached a valuation of $3.8 billion.

Despite raising over $665 million in funding, Convoy faced challenges sustaining its operations in a competitive landscape dominated by both startups and established industry players. Despite significant investments in innovation and technology, the company struggled with high customer acquisition costs and fierce market competition, eventually leading to its exit from the transportation industry.

In its ambitious expansion across the United States, Convoy encountered operational missteps and customer service issues that exacerbated its difficulties.

One of the primary reasons for Convoy’s downfall was its heavy reliance on small carriers. Initially, Convoy focused on recruiting smaller trucking companies and owner-operators to expand its fleet and market presence. However, this strategy left the company exposed as market dynamics in the freight industry shifted.

Another factor contributing to Convoy’s collapse was its escalating expenses and increasing losses. By the end of 2022, Convoy was burning through $10 million per month, largely due to the easing of the pandemic-induced freight demand surge and a drop in shipping rates. The financial strain led to layoffs, office closures, and other cost-cutting measures. Despite these efforts, Convoy was unable to prevent its eventual demise, joining the ranks of multimillion-dollar trucking companies that ceased operations in 2023.

Trucking Market

The trucking industry is inherently susceptible to economic disruptions, a reality that has been accentuated by recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the e-commerce boom. These developments have brought to light the challenges faced by trucking companies, with many experiencing closures and bankruptcies.

The rise of e-commerce has driven a surge in demand for greater flexibility and faster delivery times, qualities that larger less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers have historically struggled to provide. This shift in consumer expectations has contributed to the struggles and failures of some trucking companies in meeting evolving market demands.

In the realm of trucking, even small fluctuations in fuel prices can have significant impacts on budgeting and profitability. Diesel prices, essential for the operation of trucks, have exhibited notable fluctuations over time. As a result, selecting the most suitable fuel cards for truckers has become increasingly critical in 2024 and beyond to help mitigate the effects of volatile fuel costs on operational expenses.

It is essential to closely examine the ongoing transformation within the trucking industry to understand how companies are adapting to these challenges and opportunities in the evolving economic landscape.

Rising Costs:

The closure of trucking companies can often be attributed to various operational costs that place strain on their financial sustainability. These costs include escalating fuel prices, maintenance expenses, insurance premiums, and labor costs, all of which contribute to the challenges faced by companies in the industry.

While larger corporations typically possess the financial resources to weather rising costs due to their “big business mindset” and capacity for larger investments, this approach can also present challenges, as evidenced by the bankruptcies of companies like Convoy and Yellow.

Several key factors contribute to the escalation of operational costs in the trucking industry:

1. The Driver Shortage:
A significant issue affecting operational costs is the shortage of truck drivers. According to Forbes, the scarcity of drivers presents a substantial challenge in managing labor expenses and ensuring operational efficiency. In 2022, driver wages accounted for 32% of all trucking-related costs, with an additional 8% attributed to driver benefits.

2. Heavy Upfront Costs:
Companies like Convoy heavily invested in the development and upkeep of their digital platforms, necessitating substantial upfront expenditures for technology development, software engineering talent, and ongoing infrastructure maintenance. As these companies expanded their operations to accommodate a larger user base and handle increased freight volumes, the expenses related to maintaining and enhancing their technology infrastructure likely soared significantly.

Looking ahead to the future of the industry, it is imperative to recognize the potential impact of rising operational costs on a trucking company’s profitability and long-term sustainability. Innovation and adaptability will be key in navigating the evolving landscape of the trucking sector, where companies must strive to balance cost management with operational efficiency to ensure their continued success in a dynamic and competitive environment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as the industry moves forward from recent trucking company bankruptcies, it is essential to remain vigilant and responsive to the changing landscape, embracing opportunities for growth and advancement while addressing the challenges posed by escalating operational costs.

Ken Miller for 1Truck America, July 3rd 2024

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