Trucking Continues to Dominate Freight Movement

March 16, 2009
The long-term outlook remains bright for all modes of freight transportation, the American Trucking Associations reports

Despite the current weakness in demand for freight transportation services caused by the nation’s recession, the long-term outlook remains bright for all modes of freight transportation, the American Trucking Associations reports in its newly released ATA U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast to 2020.

IHS Global Insight, which conducted the study for ATA, projects that by 2020 total freight tonnage will grow more than 26 percent and total freight transportation revenue will grow 68 percent.

Trucks’ share of total tonnage will rise gradually from 68.8 percent in 2008 to 70.9 percent by 2020. Rail’s overall share (carload plus intermodal) of total tonnage will slip slightly from 14.9 percent to 14.7 percent by 2020, according to the report. Air cargo tonnage is estimated to grow from 14.5 million tons in 2008 to 22 million tons in 2020.

“Like many other industries, trucking is experiencing a very difficult time during the current economic recession,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “Yet, all signs point to a strong, vital, long-term future for our industry. Trucking exclusively serves 80 percent of all communities in the U.S. for the products and goods they receive. When the recovery begins, trucks will help lead the way.”

The modes included in the Forecast are truck (truckload, less-than-truckload, and private carriage), rail (carload and intermodal), domestic water, pipeline, and domestic air. The Forecast not only projects volume and revenue growth for all modes of freight transportation, it provides the underlying forecasts from which those projections are made. For example, U.S. manufacturing output, which is in the midst of a sharp contraction, will grow at an annual average rate of 3.5 percent in the second half of the forecast period. The main driver of that growth will be high-tech production, which is projected to exceed 15 percent per year from 2015-2020. The Forecast provides projections for industrial output, consumer spending, business investment, trade, employment, housing starts, vehicle sales, as well as other key drivers of freight.

The Forecast uses a 2008 baseline and projects freight tonnage and revenue by mode to 2020, as well as the number of trucks that will be needed to move the freight. New this year is a table on the percentage of freight tonnage originated by geographic region. This year’s edition also includes historical data for all modes of freight dating back to 1990, and revised revenue and tonnage figures back to 2002.

The ATA U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast to 2020 can be purchased at or by calling 1-866-821-3468 (toll free). The report is part of the ATA Business Solutions line of products, events, and services. Purchase of the Forecast, which is available in print, on CD or via downloadable PDF, includes participation in a live webinar with ATA Chief Economist and Vice President Bob Costello.