Economic forces, consumer demand, seasonality, natural disasters and myriad other factors contribute to transport's cyclical market.
The charts below show the latest data on Class 8 truck orders, trailer orders, monthly tonnage, linehaul rates and load-to-truck ratios. We'll update this page frequently as new data is released.
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Load-to-truck ratios from DAT Freight & Analytics serve as indicators of supply and demand in the spot market. The ratio is calculated based on the number of load posts compared to the number of truck posts on the DAT One load board. Ratio changes can signal upcoming fluctuations in spot rates.
Load-to-truck ratios all decreased the week of March 5 to 11 compared to the previous week. DAT reported:
- Dry van decreased from 2.8 to 2 loads per truck
- Reefer declined from 4.3 to 3.2 loads per truck
- Flatbed dropped from 17.1 to 15.8 loads per truck
Changes in the ratio indicate the direction of spot rates, and the dry van load-to-truck ratio is in line with the same week for 2017, 2019 and 2020, DAT noted. Meanwhile, the flatbed ratio remains historically low compared to the same week in other years.
Dry van load posts jumped substantially the last week of February with the end-of-month shipping surge, but they dropped 22% the following week to 566,389 loads, "the lowest volume we've seen this year," Principal Analyst Dean Croke said in a weekly market update. Posting volume is about half of what it was a year ago, DAT observed
Spot linehaul rates
The national average dry van rate decreased by about 1 cent to $1.72 per mile the week of March 5 to 11 compared to the previous week, according to DAT data. The reefer rate increased by about 2 cents to $2.04 per mile, and the flatbed rate increased by 5 cents to $2.18 per mile.
DAT Chief of Analytics Ken Adamo assessed the potential for national van linehaul rates to dip below $1.45 a mile by late April, saying, “Instinctively, I want to believe that produce season and retail shopping in the spring will elevate rates. Our Ratecast models are becoming less and less optimistic."
He said if anything close to the short-term rate forecast materializes, the industry could face some significant negative impacts on capacity.
Spot linehaul rates
Truckload linehaul rates
The index, which includes spot and contract freight, decreased from 149.2 in January to 148.6 in February, Cass reported. That marked a 6% decline YoY.
"With spot rates already down significantly, the larger contract market is likely to continue adjusting down, if more gradually, but in the same direction," Cass said once again in its monthly report.
Truckload Linehaul Index
Class 8 orders
Preliminary Class 8 net orders rose for the first time in five months in February, reaching 22,800 units, according to FTR. Order activity for the month was 13% higher than last month, and 10% higher than February 2022.
Eric Starks, chairman of the board for FTR, said order levels have been strong of late, which is a welcome sign for the industry.
“Over the past year, total net orders reached 303,000 units. In any market, this is a strong number. However, given the uncertainty in the economy, this is an especially welcome sign that demand has not collapsed and that fleets still have access to capital,” Starks said.
Class 8 net truck orders in North America
FTR's trailer data covers orders for dry vans, refrigerated vans and flatbeds. Orders for trailers, like the Class 8 orders, signal confidence in the market and anticipation of strong business conditions.
Preliminary trailer orders jumped from November to December, hitting a new monthly record of 56,949 units, according to FTR data. The surge was more than double the orders from December 2021.
"The surge in orders is unlikely to be sustained going forward, and we have already seen strong moderation in Class 8 orders," Jonathan Starks, CEO and chief intelligence officer of FTR, said in a monthly report.
He noted there's been over 347,000 trailers orders placed over the last year and "backlogs are at their highest level in nearly two years. 2023 is starting on solid footing even as the macro uncertainty remains extremely elevated."
Net U.S. trailer orders
The American Trucking Associations has been tracking tonnage, calculating the index based on member surveys, since the 1970s. In the chart below, the baseline is 100, which represents conditions in 2015. Tonnage primarily reflects freight movement through contracts versus on the spot market.
The tonnage index was 117.1 in January when seasonally adjusted. That’s a slight increase from December's index, which ATA revised up to 116.2 from its previous monthly release.
There could be one or more factors causing the uptick. ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello noted that contract carriers dominate the index, which could be benefiting from a surplus in carriers leaving the market, but he also suggested that the increase could be due to freight improving after possibly bottoming out.