ATLANTA — The cost of operating a full-size truck in the U.S. grew nearly 13% in 2021 to its highest level ever, according to the latest research from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).
The marginal cost of trucking grew 12.7% in 2021 to $1.86 per mile, the highest on record, the ATRI said, citing its findings from a survey of U.S. motor carriers.
Leading contributors to the increase were fuel (35.4% higher than in 2020), repair and maintenance (18.2% higher than in 2020), and driver wages (10.8% higher than in 2020).
On a cost-per-hour basis, costs increased to $74.65, the Atlanta-based non-profit research organization said.
The trucking industry experienced many new, atypical market conditions in 2021 and their effects can clearly be seen in the Ops Costs data, the ATRI said.
Overall, fleets with up to 100 trucks spent 4.9 cents more per mile than fleets with more than 100 trucks — closing the 2020 gap with larger fleets by 70%. While larger fleets spent less than smaller fleets on insurance premiums per mile, the advantage was offset by higher out-of-pocket incident costs per mile for large fleets.
In response to the truck driver shortage, driver compensation rose 10% last year over 2020 to 80.9 cents per mile.
Faced with challenges throughout the supply chain, carriers emphasized greater efficiency, the ATRI said. Empty or "deadhead" mileage fell to 14.8% of miles traveled, and average truck fuel economy increased to 6.65 miles per gallon.
The cost of tires fell slightly last year to 41 cents per mile from 43 cents, the study shows, with a range of 38 cents per mile in the Midwest to 45 cents per mile in the Southwest.
Repair and maintenance costs jumped 18.2% last year over 2020 to 17.5 cents per mile, ATRI said, owing in part to the average of trucks rising in light of new truck shortages.
This year's report includes several new efficiency metrics, such as annualized driver turnover, average dwell time at shipper facilities and revenue per truck. The financial health of trucking remained strong throughout 2021 despite spiking costs, with an average operating margin in most sectors at 10%.
"The last couple of years have created great uncertainties in trucking, but ATRI's newest Operational Costs report provides critical data and insights into the trends and anomalies that emerged in 2021," Jason Higginbotham, Ozark Motor Lines' CFO, said.
"As the report hints, the coming year holds opportunity for continued growth in our industry."
A full copy of the report is available through ATRI's website.
ATRI is the trucking industry's 501c3 not-for-profit research organization. It is engaged in critical research relating to freight transportation's essential role in maintaining a safe, secure and efficient transportation system.