BB&T produced an excellent chart which goes a long way to explaining why we are not seeing a shortage of TL van capacity even with housing starts and auto assemblies rising. Using ATA data for truck loads, the chart shows that domestic intermodal load volumes have increased for 11 straight years, including 2009, and this year will clearly make it 12 straight. In contrast, TL van loads have contracted in 8 of the 11 years and it looks like there will be further contraction this year. Van loads are approximately 19% below their level of 2006. Since longer haul freight is more likely to have been converted to intermodal, the impact on truck capacity availability is even greater. Since 2007, domestic intermodal volume has grown at a 9.1% annual rate versus GDP growth of about 1.5% per year.
Shippers have done a good job of recognizing that there is a lack of new TL capacity entering the industry and have responded by managing the demand side, not only through intermodal conversion but also through packaging design, supply chain network design, and utilization of private and dedicated fleets.