Dedicated trucking’s popularity is on the rise, as both shippers and carriers embrace it as a way to guarantee capacity and escape the volatility that has engulfed the industry as a whole. According to A.C. Kearney’s 2017 State of Logistics Report (subtitled “Accelerating into Uncertainty”), spending on dedicated and private fleets has risen 0.7 percent in the past year, while truckload spending has dropped 1.6 percent. J.B. Hunt, Swift, and Werner Enterprises have all added trucks to their dedicated divisions, and have found customers eager to take advantage of its relative stability.
Dedicated trucking offers reliability at a time when trucking faces an uncertain outlook in both the short and long-terms. Spot rates are climbing, with contract rates almost certain to follow suit, making shippers eager to lock in longer contracts ahead of the predicted rate hikes. The ELD mandate, set to take effect in December, is predicted to tighten capacity as truckers adapt to the new technology’s stricter control over their hours of service. One logistics professional was quoted in JOC as predicting that the mandate could shave “2 to 3 percent” of truck capacity from the market, though others maintain that the crunch will be neither dramatic nor permanent. Whatever the ELD mandate’s effects, dedicated fleets (and larger carriers in general) will likely be better equipped to handle them than smaller carriers, many of whom have not yet begun implementation. The burdens of increased regulation and vehicle costs are also driving some companies to shift from private to dedicated fleets, with the Wall Street Journal mentioning a “national hardware chain” that recently made the switch.
An even greater threat to trucking’s long-term stability is the ever-worsening driver shortage, as stagnant wages and a persistent public image problem discourage young people from entering this formerly reliable middle-class career. Dedicated trucking may be the best safeguard against the driver shortage, since it offers truckers predictable routes and more time at home, making it “the ultimate career goal” for many drivers.
For the most part, the dedicated trucking trend concerns large shippers with the resources and volume stability to contract with large trucking companies, but the shift is also affecting smaller shippers and carriers. While larger carriers undergo a wave of consolidation, shift resources to their dedicated divisions, and cut vehicles from their fleets, hundreds of smaller companies are sprouting up to fill the gaps in the one-way market. According to QualifiedCarrier.com’s December database, 82 percent of all currently active fleets operate between one and six trucks. The challenge is connecting these small carriers with shippers in need of their services, and this disconnect is helping to drive up spot rates nationwide. However, the proliferation of smaller carriers may be a boon to brokers, whose services will become even more vital in negotiating for the best rates and saving customers from the logistics fatigue that has driven larger shippers to dedicated fleets.
Despite industry-wide uncertainty, analysts are confident that dedicated trucking’s popularity will continue to grow, with some envisioning a future in which trucking is dominated by a few large carriers whose business is chiefly concentrated in dedicated divisions, while smaller competitors vie for more irregular routes. Of course, no single prediction can possibly account for all the technological, political, and financial upheavals currently reshaping the logistics landscape, but that’s precisely why dedicated trucking is such an appealing option for both shippers and carriers waiting to see what the future holds.