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2023 Top 500 For-Hire list shows tractors up 3%

The total tractor count of the largest trucking companies in the U.S. grew 2.63% over the course of 2022 — to 557,560 from 543,279 —  according to the 2023 FreightWaves Top 500 For-Hire Carriers list.

While enterprise carrier growth doesn’t paint the whole picture (small carriers and owner-operators being important parts, too), it does show that 2022 saw significant capacity enter the U.S. trucking market even as the economy cooled. That reality has contributed to the current recessionary freight environment, in which volume can climb without improving business for many carriers.

The second annual publication, which draws on data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SMS database, also showed total power unit count (tractors, straight trucks and cargo vans combined) climbing 3.49%, to 805,442. Trailer count growth was even steeper at 8.31%, equating now to more than 1.5 million trailers registered by the largest U.S. fleets. 

To put that total number in perspective, if each of those trailers were a 53-foot dry van, there would almost be enough to make a stack five-high on the shortest road route between Seattle and Miami.

The continued expansion of capacity in the past year may have contributed to the downward movement of trucking’s spot rate market. A dramatic increase in demand for cargo transportation in 2020 and 2021 led to sky-high used truck prices and a deluge of new orders at trucking OEMs. That added to delivery backlogs that were still clearing in 2022, even as the market soured and demand dropped off.

Equipment is a lagging indicator. Currently, the main storyline in trucking is one of capacity outstripping demand, with tender rejections holding at multiyear lows and the spot market pressuring contract rates downward. If that holds through the year, decision-makers at enterprise fleets might opt against dramatic growth of their fleets, unless by acquisition.

Related: Wabash cuts multiyear trailer supply deal with J.B. Hunt

The Top 500 for-hire list has seen its fair share of changes since it was unveiled last year. Dozens of new carriers have entered the rankings this year, and dozens have fallen off.

The list’s top 10 spots were largely unchanged, however. FedEx and UPS continue to lead at Nos. 1 and 2. Together, their fleets account for more than 12% of all tractors in the Top 500.

J.B. Hunt pushed into the top three, moving past Knight-Swift, which now sits at No. 4. XPO Logistics dropped out of the top 10 as a result of selling its intermodal division to STG Logistics (No. 49) and due in smaller part to the GXO (No. 347) and RXO (No. 499) spinoffs. XPO is still the 12th-largest U.S.-based fleet.

Rounding out the top 10 are Yellow Corp. (No. 5), Landstar System (No. 6), Schneider (No. 7), Old Dominion Freight Line (No. 8), Werner Enterprises (No. 9) and Estes Express Lines (No. 10).

The largest five fleets own a huge chunk of the market. They account for roughly 23% of all tractors, or 128,186. The largest 50 carriers control 62.77%.

Trucking companies headquartered in Tennessee control more tractors than those headquartered in any other U.S. state. Enterprise carriers based there (including FedEx, U.S. Xpress, Averitt Express, Western Express, Forward Air and others.) operate 69,840 tractors, or 12.52% of those recorded in the Top 500.

Georgia (UPS, Saia), Arkansas (J.B. Hunt, ArcBest), Iowa (CRST, Heartland Express) and Pennsylvania (Evans Network, Penske Logistics) round out the Top 5 as the biggest states for trucking.

This year’s list also allows for sorting via total power units, which is tractors plus straight trucks plus cargo vans.

The Top 500 For-Hire Carriers list is populated by tracking updates to the Department of Transportation numbers associated with each of the companies. The only requirement to be considered is that a carrier have active for-hire authority with the FMCSA.

If you want your company to be considered for next year’s, send an email at the address in the author bio below.

Click here for the full 2023 Top 500 Largest For-Hire Carriers list.

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