CCJ Top 250: Pandemic-crippled supply chain unkind to auto haulers

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Updated Nov 3, 2021

The last 19 months have been mixed bag for auto haulers, with the pandemic hampering sales of new vehicles and the surge in demand that followed – coupled with a wide-spread component shortage – making new vehicles nearly impossible to find and sending used prices skyrocketing. 

Half of the auto transport companies listed on CCJ's Top 250 lost ground from 2020 to 2021, falling by an average of almost 11 positions. Fleets that gained position moved up an average of nearly 5 spots. 

United Road, the largest and most diversified finished vehicle logistics provider in North America, lost six spots over the last year despite the 2019 acquisition of Team Drive-Away (TDA), a non-asset-based commercial vehicle logistics provider and heavy-haul specialist, and its affiliates Driveaway USA and Fr8 Management. Asset count at the Plymouth, Michigan-based hauler dropped by about 700 tractors and trailers combined. Driver count was down about 266 from 2020 to 2021.

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Hauling new and used vehicles has been a cycle of boom and bust as manufactures scale production when parts becomes available and ramp back down when supply re-tightens. In an effort to retain its drivers during the swings, United Road this year expanded its Guaranteed Pay Benefit to all company drivers. Drivers can earn more bi-weekly than the guaranteed pay levels, but the baseline offers peace of mind that comes with consistent pay.

“Retaining good, quality car-haulers has been a challenge and continues be a challenge. The COVID and supply chain issues have certainly created unforeseen challenges to which we are adjusting. The uneven and unproductive production schedules in the OEM sector and the record high pricing in the remarketed sector have caused inefficiency and inconsistent earnings for our car-haulers," said United Road president and CEO Mark Anderson. â€śWe instituted a guaranteed pay program and a number of other strategic initiatives that have enabled us to slow the rate of driver attrition. That said, perhaps the bigger impact of these atypical issues has been on driver hiring and the growth of new drivers to the industry. Between the reduction of truck driving students and the limitations on classroom training, we believe the ability to hire and train new drivers is at a critical level.”

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Jack Cooper, the second largest motor vehicle carrier and the largest carrier with a unionized workforce, climbed four spots. The Kansas City-based carrier picked up a couple handfuls of trucks, trailers and drivers in the last year, and was also certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council. Quite a comeback story for a company that exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in late 2019. 

The biggest gainer on the 2021 list in the auto segment was Hansen & Adkins Auto Transport, which climbed eight spots and added more than 100 tractors, 71 trailers and more than 100 to its driver count. 

[Related: Pandemic puts a lid on revenue gains for largest for-hire carriers]

The biggest slide on the list goes to Goshen, Indiana-based RV-specialist Quality Drive-Away (No. 231 last year), which fell off the list entirely. Of those who remained entrenched inside the Top 250, Cassens Transport fell 12 spots. The carrier's asset count dipped slightly (down about 50 trucks and trailers combined) and driver count slid by almost 120.

Estimated revenues for 2019 and 2020 reflect that the pandemic was unkind to accounts receivable. Assumed revenues alone shrank from more than $1.4 billion in 2019 to just more than $1 billion last fiscal year. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].