Companies across the United States are reporting increased operating expenses and reduced profit margins due to a truck shortage this year, a problem that doesn’t seem to have any immediate fixes. Savvy owner-operators should pay close attention to this situation, as the development of the shortage and companies’ responses may have a significant impact on the work available to independent truckers in the near future.
In most industries, a rise in demand would be met immediately with a rise in supply—but with trucking in the US, we’re seeing a growing shortage. There are two key factors behind the current trucking shortage.
First, manufacturers simply cannot keep up with the surging demand for trucks. Certain key components for the manufactures of trucks are falling behind demand, creating bottlenecks manufacturers can’t get around. Orders for trucks are already well in excess of maximum production capacity, even assuming every OEM supplier completely optimized production for the year.
The second shortage is for drivers. Stricter enforcement and more detailed tracking of driver hours are limiting the time current drivers put into the road, while ongoing speculation about the potential of self-driving vehicles has kept the number of new drivers acquiring commercial licenses from rising to meet increased demand. Potential drivers are worried about investing time and money into starting a career as a trucker, even with the technology likely decades from maturity—not all, but enough to slow down the growth of the driver pool.
Together, these problems both create a shortage which can’t be easily overcome through extra spending and investment. Manufacturers can’t easily expand capacity to meet production requirements in the short term, and there’s no easy fix for the labor problem.
When a shortage arises, suppliers stand to benefit. Independent truckers should keep an eye out for good opportunities during the trucking shortage, as companies strive to offer competitive payments to keep their freight moving in a timely manner.
Because they can’t rely on new trucks, companies which normally rely on their own fleets may need to outsource to independent drivers. Look out for these if you’re interested in a few quick, lucrative paydays, as growing companies will choose to spend more on freight for now if it means maintaining steady growth.
Remember, trucking shortages like this are a common part of the business cycle in the U.S. There have been shortages like this before, and there will be shortages like this again. Drivers should aim to take advantage of any opportunities that exist today, but don’t become reliant upon them. You don’t want to be left unsure of your next step when the cycle turns and the shortage fades again.