Top Tier (January 01, 2010)

Our fifth annual Top Tier report, offering a comprehensive look at the nation’s largest for-hire carriers, finds an industry in the midst of painful transition. The freight recession started long before the economic recession and operating in the cutthroat environment of the past year has humbled even the proudest and most progressive of motor carriers.

As you work your way through this year’s list, you will no doubt notice some familiar names no longer present. Our trucking industry hasn’t been hit as hard as the one across the border, but there have been fatalities and there will likely be more. There’s a new phrase in trucking circles these days: phantom trucking. It refers to companies who by all rights should be bankrupt but remain alive only because their equipment asset values are not worth bothering with right now. Soon as the economy starts to improve and equipment values start to rise, the banks will move more aggressively to cull the herd -there is general agreement about this within the trucking industry.

Working through the list you will also likely notice reduced equipment counts, a byproduct of the lingering freight recession. And yet our research shows that shippers still consider the TL and LTL markets in Canada to be in over capacity.

Many trucking CEOs say they’ve learned their lesson about capacity; they swear they won’t get overzealous about growing their fleets in the future, which would have clear implications on the future availability of truck service and influence rates upwards. I wonder if that will prove true, however. My impression over the past 20 years covering the transportation industry is that lessons learned during hard times start to fade as economic fortunes improve. Or as Rob Penner of Bison Transport points out, the lesson on capacity may not have been learned at all: “If we can go through the toughest period in our era and still have excess capacity, I’m not sure we have learned our lesson.”

There is also a great deal of self-examination going on about rates. While many motor carriers point the finger at overly aggressive shippers for reducing rates to non-profitable levels, one remark from George Ledson of Cavalier Transportation made at the latest Ontario Trucking Association annual conference sticks with me. Ledson has been around longer than most trucking execs and he believes truckers should look in the mirror before pointing fingers: “We’re our own worst enemies. Why do people feel their product doesn’t need to be properly paid for?… Soon as the shipper says he can get a better rate down the street, we back off the rate.”

This is a volatile time for trucking companies. But it is also a time for opportunity. There is a culling of the herd going on right now that will make the future advantageous for those who have been willing to hit the “reset” button in the ways they handle key aspects of their business. It is our hope that the leading carriers included in this prestigious list lead the way.

To help you keep up with the latest developments, in the following pages, you will find detailed and up-to-date information about the capacity and capabilities of the 100 largest for-hire motor carriers in Canada and the Next 25. This exclusive data is from annual research conducted on behalf of our sister company, BIG Transportation Media Research.

An additional feature is a report on the fleets owned by three of the largest and most aggressive acquirers in recent years, Transforce, Contrans and Day & Ross.

And once again this year, some of the industry’s most influential executives share their insights on the current situation and the issues they will face in the future. This comprehensive guide is not intended as a mere tally of vehicle counts. In fact, we have chosen not to list the top 100 carriers by size. The top 100 carriers are listed in alphabetical order because we believe that after a certain threshold, optimum fleet size is a reflection of the different markets these fleets are meant to serve.

I would also like to thank the sponsors of our Top Tier report, Peoplenet Communications, Mack Canada and Castrol who continue with their support. Their involvement is instrumental in helping us deliver such a comprehensive report.

Lou Smyrlis

Editorial Director


Your annual in-depth report on the capacity, capabilities and insights of the nation’s largest carriers.

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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