Ebbs and flows in the market continue to precipitate many of the changes that readers might notice in this year’s FleetOwner 500: Top for-hire fleets list. To see the list, click the download link below.
Freight demand has been slower than previous seasonally adjusted norms to kick-start 2023. Equipment, diesel, and other carrier costs remain high, while truck utilization continues to fall from a pandemic-era capacity surge. Consequently, more small carriers have given up the for-hire authority they sought during the booming spot market of 2020 and 2021 in favor of more stable company driving jobs or have leased their services to larger fleets.
It’s important to remember, though, that most of these new and departing carriers are independent, one-truck operations that wouldn’t have made this list, which bases rankings solely on number of power units. However, the data for this year’s list does include many new subsidiaries for parent company fleets that may have absorbed some of these smaller carriers.
Over the last year, there also have been many noteworthy mergers and acquisitions that have directly impacted our latest list. Knight-Swift Transportation, which ranks third this year compared to No. 4 in 2022, devoted a large share of its resources in 2022 to acquisitions. Knight-Swift is itself the product of a large merger in 2017 and in recent years has made a number of acquisitions, most notably paying $1.35 billion for AAA Cooper in 2021 to get into the less-than-truckload market. The company followed up that acquisition with a $150 million deal for the parent company of Midwest Motor Express and Midnite Express.
Global logistics giant DB Schenker is new to this year’s list (No. 36) after signing a deal to buy USA Truck last summer. Executives at DB Schenker said the move sets the German-based company up for U.S. growth. USA Truck, which was founded in 1983, was the 44th largest for-hire fleet in the U.S., according to FleetOwner's 2022 for-hire list.
Though down one spot, No. 13 on this year’s list compared to No. 12 in 2022, Werner Enterprises also has been in growth mode via acquisitions over the last couple of years. Most recently, Werner acquired ReedTMS Logistics, an asset-light logistics provider and truckload carrier that offers freight brokerage and truckload solutions. This is the latest in a series of mergers by Werner, including its acquisition of Baylor Trucking in October 2022, and ECM Transport Group and NEHDS Logistics in 2021.
Other notable mergers over the last year include NFI’s acquisition of MCO Transport; Heartland Express, which acquired 100% of the equity of Smith Transport and related companies; and many of J.B. Hunt’s final-mile acquisitions, among others.
This year’s list might also look different to some regular readers for one significant reason: We have partnered with a new data analysis firm, ProsperFleet. Like past lists, rankings are based on power units reported to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System.
ProsperFleet relies primarily on the most recent information that entities filed on form MCS-150 with FMCSA to count power units, trailers, and drivers. This ensures a consistent “basis” (a level playing field) to compile information. Analysts at ProsperFleet also use the companies' websites, press releases, and hierarchy from their business databases to roll up U.S. Department of Transportation operating entities to a single parent company. ProsperFleet then cleanses, validates, standardizes, and enhances company and contact information to create a complete fleet view.
For companies with subsidiaries and divisions that have USDOT numbers, the subsidiary vehicle counts are included in the parent company total. Fleets that were previously on the list but were acquired in late 2021 or 2022 will not appear on the list in 2023 as a result of this roll-up to parent companies. Their power unit counts are included in the new parent company totals.
This year’s rankings are based on data reported to the FMCSA as of Nov. 30, 2022.