2023 Rewind: Year's top stories detail past year in U.S. trucking industry

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Updated Jan 3, 2024
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Trucking's top stories of 2023 logoFor many of the men and women in this nation's $940.8 billion trucking industry, 2023 did not end soon enough.

It was, for a number of them, a demanding 12 months. For others, the year that just expired was disastrous.

The financial drama that played out this year delivered difficulties to for-hire trucking companies of all sizes. At least two major carriers succumbed to several years of declining profitability leading to one being sold and the other filing for bankruptcy. But it was not only large companies that suffered in 2023, many small ones -- including one-truck operations -- called it quits this year.

But, 2023 was not all doom and gloom. There was some progress in efforts to address the shortage of truck parking, and the industry and the federal government are doing more to acknowledge the role women can play in meeting the demand for drivers. And, no one other than Time magazine's Person of the Year shown a positive light on the role of truck drivers.

Here are 13 stories that shaped the year in trucking.

The Freight Recession

The freight situation in the U.S. during 2023 was a regular witch's brew, one that led to some significant hand-wringing by carriers of almost all sizes, and many small operations closing up shop.

The ingredients that led the industry and its various analysts to proclaim the existence of a "freight recession" included:

  • continued slack manufacturing orders
  • high existing retail inventories
  • excess trucking capacity
  • consumer spending shifting from goods to services
  • increased costs for fuel and labor

And, most of these have their roots in the COVID pandemic, during which the government pumped billions of dollars into the economy to keep consumer spending robust. People used much of their government largesse to outfit home offices, take up new hobbies, buy work-from-home wardrobes, and home furnishings.

All of those goods had to be delivered by trucks, and that prompted many carriers to add equipment and spend more to hire and keep drivers.

Now, consumers are spending on services and experiences like returning to gyms that had been closed, dining out at restaurants that had shuttered or provided only takeout service, and traveling more for vacations and holidays. 

All of this added up to more capacity chasing fewer shipments, i.e. a freight recession.

Most industry analysts suggest this situation will hang on until the second half of 2024, while some more pessimistic seers claim it will last for most of the new year.

Yellow Corp.'s Closing and Bankruptcy

The years of financial struggles finally caught up to the 94-year-old Yellow Corp. this summer.

It announced it was ceasing operations on July 30 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Aug. 6, putting some 30,000 employees, including 22,000 union drivers, out of work. It faced some $12.5 billion in debt, including a pandemic-era federal load of $730 million.

In making the announcements, Yellow’s Chief Executive Officer Darren Hawkins said“It is with profound disappointment that Yellow announces that it is closing after nearly 100 years in business." Hawkins then went on to blame the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the drivers' union, for the company's demise. 

He said, “We faced nine months of union intransigence, bullying, and deliberately destructive tactics. A company has the right to manage its own operations, but as we have experienced, IBT leadership was able to halt our business plan, literally driving our company out of business, despite every effort to work with them.” 

However, the union blamed Yellow's management for the company's failure.

The union's General President Sean M. O’Brien said, “Today’s news is unfortunate but not surprising. Yellow has historically proven that it could not manage itself despite billions of dollars in worker concessions and hundreds of millions in bailout funding from the federal government. This is a sad day for workers and the American freight industry."

Since then, many of Yellow's former competitors have been purchasing its former terminals. Yellow's rolling stock -- some 12,000 trucks and 40,000 trailers -- is to be sold by Ritchie Brothers and Nation's Capital.

Because Yellow's shutdown came at a time when the freight market was soft, its former customers had no trouble finding other LTL carriers to make their deliveries.

Freight Fraud and Cargo Theft Soar

Just before the holiday season, CargoNet reported that since November 2022, it had recorded over 600 strategic cargo thefts in the United States. That compares to just 58 such thefts in previous years.

Most of those thefts occurred in California. Aside from slight increases on Fridays, thefts were evenly distributed throughout the workweek.

During 2023, cargo thieves preferred shipments of energy drinks, sodas, liquor, hard seltzers, motor oils, tires, and solar panels. Near year's end, CargoNet said it noticed a wider range of commodities being targeted, including shipments of footwear, clothing, beauty products, ATVs, and construction equipment.

While many of these thefts occurred through pilferage or with the theft of entire loads left unattended, cargo theft spiked during 2023 when cargo thieves used elaborate false identities to appear to be brokers. Once they had a load consigned by a shipper, they would assign it to a legitimate carrier who might deliver it to a bogus address or take it to a facility where it would then be taken by another unsuspecting carrier to a final fraudulent destination.

Often, the legitimate carriers would never be paid.

The cargo thieves would then sell the stolen goods, in some instances through legitimate-looking businesses. 

Cargo theft experts expect these activities to continue even as law enforcement agencies at all levels do more to crack down on it.

Zero Emissions Requirements and Pushback

Chilling new clean air regulations arrived in 2023, causing much of the trucking industry to shiver, and then start retaliating.

Early in the year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency published new, stricter emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks. The EPA’s proposed truck emission standards would require a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the U.S. to be all-electric by 2032.

This meant OEMs had to accelerate the development of technologies to produce cleaner trucks beginning with the 2027 model year. It also made trucking companies figure out what that means for them.

Manufacturers, trucking associations, and even federal elected officials pushed back against the EPA and strict new regulations advanced by the California Air Resources Board that aimed at requiring only zero-emissions trucks operating in the state.

In February, 34 Republican senators, led by pro-trucking Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) introduced a resolution to overturn the EPA's new emissions standards.

The push for cleaner heavy-duty trucks is behind the push for battery-electric vehicles. However, trucking industry skeptics question if such trucks will have the range for long-haul deliveries and if the nation's electrical grid has the capacity for all the charging that will be required.

Schenider is focusing on electric trucks in its Southern California operations. The Wisconsin-based carrier has 50 Freightliner eCascadias and a large charging facility in South El Monte, California. The trucks are making regional runs around Los Angeles and throughout the Inland Empire. In November, Schneider announced its eCascadias had hauled over 1 million miles of customer freight.

Major Infrastructure Damages and Repairs

Infrastructure made headlines in 2023, including the almost miraculous repairs made to two major interstates that suffered catastrophic damage.

In early June, a tanker loaded with gasoline crashed while exiting Interstate 95 in Northeast Philadelphia. The resulting fire claimed the life of the driver, 53-year-old Nathan Moody, and melted the steel supporting the interstate's northbound lanes causing them to collapse, and severely damaging the structure of the southbound lanes.

At the time of the crash, Pennsylvania transportation and government officials said it would take months before the interstate could be reopened. But, thanks to the use of an innovative recycled glass material used to temporarily fill the gap left be the destroyed interstate lanes, I-95 had traffic flowing over it within just 12 days.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation opened new permanent northbound lanes in mid-November, and new southbound lanes are expected to be ready for traffic early next year.     

A similar situation occurred in early November when a suspected arson fire heavily damaged a 450-foot section of Interstate 10 in downtown Los Angeles.The Nov. 11 fire closed the stretch of highway that carries 300,000 vehicles a day.

Inspectors for the California Department of Transportation said the fire, which spread over eight acres battled by 26 fire departments, had to check the 100 reinforced concrete pillars that support the elevated highway.

First estimates by Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested the stretch of I-10 would have to be closed for as long as three weeks while repairs were made. In the end, it took just eight days of 24/7 work to reopen the I-10.

On Dec. 12, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation quickly closed westbound lanes of Interstate 195 on the Washington Bridge when inspectors found what the department called a "critical failure" of some components of the 55-year-old bridge.

RIDOT converted two of the four eastbound lanes to carry westbound traffic and began the repairs to the westbound lanes of the bridge that carries traffic over the Seekonk River between Providence and East Providence. It's estimated the bridge carries as many as 96,000 vehicles a day.

It's expected for repairs to the bridge to take at least three months.

Increased Union Activity

A six-week strike this past fall by the United Auto Workers shut down operations at several plants owned by Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, and eventually led to a settlement that included a 25% increase in base wages.

The UAW also had negotiating success in the trucking industry as well. A 39-day walkout by 3,900 union workers at three plants operated by Mack Trucks led to another wage increase. The new contract included an average 36% increase over five years and came after employees rejected an earlier settlement that included just a 19% increase.

A major strike was averted last summer when 340,000 UPS workers approved a contract negotiated by their International Brotherhood of Teamsters union. The contract included a $7.50 hourly wage increase over the life of the contract, the creation of 7,500 new full-time jobs, and health and safety benefits including air conditioning in delivery trucks.

“Our members just ratified the most lucrative agreement the Teamsters have ever negotiated at UPS," said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien at the time of the settlement. "This contract will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, Teamsters have set a new standard and raised the bar for pay, benefits, and working conditions in the package delivery industry."

However, 22,000 Teamsters-member drivers lost their jobs when Yellow Corp. ceased operations in July and filed for bankruptcy protection in early August.

Yellow's management blamed the union for standing in the way of efforts to cut costs and streamline operations. The union blamed Yellow's demise on bad management.

Truck Parking Progress

The lack of sufficient safe and secure truck parking splashed across the headlines of major media outlets in July when a Greyhound bus loaded with passengers struck several tractor-trailers parked along the entrance of a rest area on Interstate 70 in Southern Illinois. Three passengers of the bus died in the crash, and 14 others were injured. The crash focused attention on the lack of sufficient truck parking.

Officials in Washington made an effort this year to help solve the parking crisis, which industry analysts say means there is one truck parking spot for every 11 trucks on the road.  Federal funds were provided for truck parking projects in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee.

Bills with bi-partisan support were reintroduced in the House and the Senate that would provide $755 million for truck parking. The legislation was not passed but did garner increased support in both houses and is expected to be taken up again.

Indiana opened a refurbished rest area on Interstate 65 near Kankakee that includes 225 new truck parking spots. It is part of a plan to add 1,122 new truck parking spaces along interstates. Wyoming added 200 truck parking spots on Interstate 80 at Quealy Dome at mile marker 290 and Fort Steele Rest Area at mile marker 228.

Also this year the Trucker Path app released a study showing which parts of the country with the least amount of truck parking. It found that the East Coast of the country, from Florida to Maine, was the region where truckers were least likely to find parking when they needed it.

Threat of Speed Limiters Didn't Materialize ... Yet

The trucking industry held its collective breath as the final days of 2023 ticked off the calendar.  It waited for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to announce the maximum setting for proposed speed limiters, which never came by the Dec. 29 deadline that had been set by the agency.

Earlier in the year, FMCSA made its latest attempt to enact a regulation mandating speed-limiting technology be installed on all new trucks. When it did, it listed 68 mph as the top speed, only to retract that and set Dec. 29 for the reveal.

Any prospect of speed limiters faces stiff opposition. When FMCSA advanced the idea in 2022 15,000 comments -- most in opposition -- were received.

Members of the House of Representatives grilled FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson in December when she appeared at a Highways and Transit Subcommittee hearing. Aside from questioning Hutcheson about speed limiters, many of the House Members voiced their opposition to them.

FMCSA is expected to take another run at speed-limiting in the first couple of months of this year, meaning any new limit -- if there is one -- would not take affect until 2025.

Also in December, the FMCSA issued an update on its enforcement policy regarding sexual harassment. The statement from the agency said federal law requires anyone convicted of using a commercial motor vehicle to commit a felony must be disqualified from operating a CMV. That could mean a driver convicted of such an offense could be prohibited from driving for a year to life.

During 2023, FMCSA also dealt with several other issues including California's AB5 labor law that requires owner-operators to be treated as company employees, automated driving systems, electronic identification for trucks, and automated emergency braking.

Most observers expect 2024 to be an active regulatory year.

Major Mergers and Acquisitions Happened in 2023

In the spring of the year, one major trucking company scooped up another. Then, just as the year was about to end, the same thing happened again.

Despite the decline in demand and rising interest rates, significant mergers and acquisitions occurred throughout 2023. 

In March, Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings, Inc. announced it was acquiring Chattanooga-based U.S. Xpress for $808 million. Then in late December, Montreal, Canada-based TFI International, Inc. was purchasing the large flatbed firm of Daseke, Inc. The price? A stunning $1.1 billion.

"The opportunity to improve earnings, gain customers, and reach more professional drivers, was very compelling to us," said Knight-Swift CEO Dave Jackson when the deal for U.S. Xpress was announced. "We expect to apply the same playbook that proved successful in the Knight-Swift merger as we share best practices, improve operations, and work together to help U.S. Xpress become the best that it can be."

Included in the deal were U.S. Xpress' network of about 14 terminals and 30 drop yards, primarily located across the eastern U.S. U.S. Xpress’ fleet includes about 7,200 tractors and 14,400 trailers, including tractors provided by some 1,000 independent contractors. The company’s workforce includes about 7,900 drivers (including independent contractors), 300 maintenance technicians, and 2,200 non-driver employees.

Daseke’s operations include about 4,900 tractors, 11,000 flatbed, and specialized trailers, and one million square feet of industrial warehousing space,. After the merger, Daseke will continue to operate its portfolio of brands as part of TFI’s Truckload segment, according to a statement from TFI.

Companies that are part of Daseke include Smokey Point Distributing, E.W. Wylie, Central Oregon Truck Company, The Boyd Companies, Lone Star Transportation, Bulldog Hiway Express, Hornaday Transportation, The Roadmaster Group, and TSH & Company.

The purchase of Daseke was only one of TFI's acquisitions during 2023. In February, it acquired the Axsun Group for $90 million, and then in May it announced it had purchased Siemens Transportation Group and Hot Line Freight Systems; the terms of those deals were not disclosed. It acquired JHT Holdings in August, and Vedder Transportation Group in September. 

Among the other mergers and acquisitions in the trucking industry this year:

  • Hub Group acquired Forward Air's final mile operations
  • CRST acquired BCB
  • PS Logistics acquired Action Dedicated
  • J.B. Hunt acquired the brokerage operation of BNSF
  • FST Logistics acquired Hyway Trucking 
  • UPS acquired Happy Returns
  • Florida Rock and Tank acquired United Petroleum Transports
  • Lazer Logistics acquired the yard spotting operation of Hirschbach

And, the outlook for 2024? More of the same.

bp Purchases Travel Centers of America

In February, British energy giant bp announced its intention to purchase the Travel Centers of America chain of truck stops.

The company offered $1.3 billion for the chain of 281 travel centers spread over 44 states.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S.-based ARKO offered $2.4 billion for TA. The company rejected the big of ARKO, one of the largest convenience store chains in the U.S.

In May, TA's shareholders voted in favor of the sale to bp.

When the deal was first announced, Dave Lawler, chairman and president of bp America said, "Subject to approvals, we look forward to welcoming the TA team to bp. TA's amazing nationwide network of on-highway locations combined with bp's more than 8,000 off-highway locations have the potential to offer travelers and professional drivers a seamless experience for decades to come."

Also in 2023, bp announced it was going to spend $1 billion to install electric vehicle charging stations across the U.S.

Truck Milestones

Peterbilt begins the production of a new model this month, creating a replacement for one of its most iconic models.

Also in 2023, Kenworth celebrated its 100th anniversary with two special edition trucks.

In May, Peterbilt unveiled the Model 589, which replaced the 389, which made its debut in 2007. During a reveal at the Texas Motor Speedway, Peterbilt officials said the new truck would be available with either the PACCAR MX-13 or Cummins X15 engines. Both deliver up to 605 hp.

The 589 also has a long, low, all-aluminum hood assembled with Huck rivets, a wraparound grille crown with triple bars, 15-inch external air cleaners, bicycle fenders, pod headlights, and 7-inch exhaust stacks.

 The first 589 of the new trucks to be built with have a numbered plaque affixed to the passenger's side dash.

To celebrate the company's 100th anniversary, Kenworth unveiled special limited editions of its W900 and T680.

The W900 Limited Edition is available in three configurations: 86-inch Studio Sleeper, 72-inch Flat Top and Extended Day Cab. Just 900 W900 Limited Edition trucks will be built.

The Signature Edition T680 is available with Kenworth’s 76-inch mid- and high-roof sleeper configurations. The special T680's exterior features a black onyx grille and side air intake, and prominent Kenworth 100 badges on the sleeper.

Women Drivers Advisory Board Meets 

Formed in 2022, the FMCSA's Women of Trucking Advisory Board met for the first time in 2023. 

During the year, the 15-member board took up the issues it was charged to address, primarily advising the FMCSA on how to best recruit, retain and advance women in the trucking industry.

A six-member committee was created during the group's August meeting to create the group's final report, which was delivered in November. In general, it focused on steps that could be taken to improve the lives of women drivers already in the industry and attract more to the profession.

Among its recommendations were:

  • removing drivers who are proven to have committed sexual harassment and assault
  • creating a rating system of carriers based on their commitment to anti-harassment standards
  • addressing concerns of sexual harassment that could occur during over-the-road training, and included “trainers and trainees should never share the same sleeping quarters"
  • advocating for more government grants for training and education for women pursuing a CDL, including offsetting child care, transportation, and living expenses

Taylor Swift Pays Truckers Bonuses

Even before being romantically linked to Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Tylor Swift made headlines in the trucking industry.

The pop star's monstrous Eras concert tour was the entertainment industry's biggest success in 2023, grossing an estimated $1.04 billion. That made it the first-ever tour to break the $1 billion mark.

Its combined 60 stops were a boon to the U.S. economy, generating more than $5 billion in consumer spending, which played a part in the 34-year-old singer/songwriter being named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2023.

Swift was quick to share the wealth, paying out some $55 million in bonuses to folks involved in staging the tour. She paid a $100,000 bonus to each truck driver involved in transporting the tour from venue to venue.

Read other stories about 2023:

Poll finds this year was nothing special, same for 2023

Numerous drivers recognized for their achievements

Here's how top issues sounded on Truckers News Podcast