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Knight-Swift Adds 400 Trucks/Drivers with Abilene Acquisition

By: John D. Shulz,

The biggest truckload carrier in the United States is growing by 400 trucks with a tuck-in acquisition that it says will immediately add $100 million in revenue and, just as importantly, 400 drivers to its fleet operations.

Phoenix-based Knight-Swift Transportation says it is buying Richmond, Va.-based Abilene Motor Express for an undisclosed amount.

It’s the first expansion since Knight Transportation bought Swift Transportation last September.

Knight-Swift, with revenue in excess of $5 billion, already is the largest TL carrier in the nation and now commands about 2 percent of the highly splintered truckload market. Unlike LTL with its complex hub-and-spoke terminal networks, there are few barriers to entry in the truckload sector.

In buying Abilene, Knight-Swift Chairman Kevin Knight is tearing a page out of the old Swift playbook.

During Swift’s go-go growth during the 1990s and early 2000s, Swift founder Jerry Moyes was known to make one Abilene-type “tuck-in” acquisition a year to help fuel Swift’s profitable growth.

The truckload sector has been plagued by a shortage of drivers, which the American Trucking Associations now estimates at 50,000. Turnover in the TL sector is about 90 percent a year. With increasing scrutiny and testing of drivers, the fastest way for a TL carrier to grow is through the acquisition of companies with a stable supply of company drivers.

That appears to be the route Knight-Swift is taking with the Abilene acquisition. Knight-Swift said in a Securities and Exchange Commission 8-K filing that the Abilene business has an operating ratio “in the low 90s,” meaning its operations are reasonably profitable.

Privately held Abilene was Abilene Motor Express was founded in 1986 by brothers, Keith and Kolen Jones. It’s a family-owned business that the company says on its website is “rooted in hard work and determination.”

Abilene began operation with a single tractor and has grown into a mid-sized carrier. Abilene offers expedited and time-definite services as well as dedicated routes for temperature-controlled and dry van freight. It also utilizes team operations for shippers who need expedited, or near air freight, services.

Nearly certainly, Knight-Swift will operate Abilene as a stand-alone entity under the K-S aegis. A source within the company says Abilene drivers will be hauling Abilene trailers with no plans for Abilene tractors to be pulling either Knight or Swift trailers at the moment. - 24/7 Support including Chat
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