EY Truck Winding Road

Navigating the shift in supply chains

Four supply chain trends shaping the future of long-haul trucking in the United States

In brief
  • A shift from a globalized supply chain to nearshoring, friendshoring and onshoring is changing trade flows and increasing cross-border traffic with Mexico.
  • Demographic trends and new inventory management practices are repositioning logistics hubs.
  • The move toward sustainable delivery and underscores companies prioritizing resiliency over just-in-time supply chains.

In recent years, global trade and supply chains have experienced fundamental shifts in the way they function. Large-scale global events (namely, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine), geopolitical trade tensions (e.g., US-China), technological advancements and changing demographics have all changed the way cargo is moved. Companies in the US trucking and broader logistics sector must recognize this confluence of external forces affecting global supply chain dynamics and take steps to anticipate industry shifts and maintain their competitiveness.

A study of the current landscape reveals four supply chain trends that are shaping the future of long-haul trucking in the United States:

  1. Nearshoring, friendshoring and onshoring. This trend is influencing trucking demand and routing, in large part through increased cross-border traffic with Mexico.
  2. Shifts in inventory management. This strategic change is leading to higher quantities of inventory being held close to population centers and greater reliance on short-haul routes.
  3. US population shifting southward and more suburban. These demographic trends are driving trucking demand toward the south and to the periphery of metropolitan areas.
  4. Increased focus on sustainability. Various pressures are pushing truckers and other carriers to reduce carbon emissions across the value chain, from product to delivery.

Download the full white paper: Navigating the shift in supply chains.

What’s driving the change in supply chain strategy?


These trends have led companies to rethink their supply chain strategies by expanding their respective supplier bases, establishing multiple sourcing routes and exploring relocation operations that can bring suppliers closer to their home markets. Mexico has emerged as a primary nearshoring and friendshoring location for companies serving the US market and, in the final quarter of 2021, replaced China as the primary US manufacturing trading partner.¹ In 2022, freight value between the US and Mexico increased by 18% over the previous year, with trucks accounting for 69% of value by mode.


Largely triggered by supply chain disruptions through COVID-19, companies have increasingly moved from just-in-time to just-in-case supply chain strategies. Executives are prioritizing increased on-hand inventory located closer to population centers and emphasizing the importance of resilience in supply chains to mitigate the impact of future disruptions. One compelling statistic supporting this view is the manufacturing inventory-to-sales ratio (ISR) remaining steady above pre-pandemic levels. It has been hovering near 1.5 in 2023, up from about 1.3 in 2013.


With greater inventory on hand, trucks are moving fewer containers from ports to warehouses and from warehouses to retail stores.


The southern region of the US is emerging as a key demand center for long-haul truck freight, as it attracts more population growth than other US regions. The region registered 0.98% annual population growth from 2010 to 2020, the highest for any region². Consequently, the South has witnessed an uptick in road freight and logistics activity. According to the US Bank Freight Payment Index, in 2Q23, the Southwest region outperformed other regions in regard to truck freight shipment volume³.


The convergence of various factors − including public attention to climate change, government policies encouraging carbon emissions reductions, investor focus on sustainability practices and market dynamics around fuel cost savings − is propelling companies to adopt more environmentally sustainable practices. These factors are driving manufacturers to locate near demand hubs and promote shifts in transportation modes, with a particular emphasis on rail and zero-emission fleets. As a result, transportation companies are undergoing network redesigns as they aim to decrease their own, their suppliers’ and their customers’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Three scenarios for the future of US supply chain

As a result of these emerging supply chain trends, long-haul trucking has declined in recent years. In this article, we take a closer look at these trends and explore how various trajectories could play out in three alternative scenarios for the US trucking industry in the next five years:

  1. Friendshoring and nearshoring explodes: Global supply chains are influenced by wide-ranging industrial policies that incentivize or compel businesses to trade primarily with neighboring and allied countries. There is a build-up of infrastructure to service expanded freight at certain ports and border crossings through multimodal interlinkage between rail, vessel and road freight transportation.
  2. Aggressive climate change actions accelerating supply chain shifts: Manufacturers strive for shorter supply chains with more efficient transportation routes, and firms relocate to be closer to demand centers and to optimize their logistics to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Sustainability, rather than cost and time, becomes a key criterion for choosing suppliers and logistics partners.
  3. Revision to just-in-time inventory and offshoring: Lower levels of geopolitical tension create a more stable and predictable global trading environment, as trade-driven partnerships become more important to policymakers in the US and elsewhere. As a result of the more liberalized trade policy environment, companies revert to globalized supply chain strategies.

Avinash Sagar, Ankit Khatri, Deepak J. Samavedam and Syed Ahmed Ali also contributed to developing this article.


The transportation and logistics sector needs to be prepared for the strategic challenges and opportunities that will be unlocked as part of global trade network redesign, changes in inventory management, demographic shifts, and an increased focus on sustainability. These external forces have the potential to radically transform US supply chains and long-haul trucking. The future direction of these trends is uncertain though, giving rise to multiple plausible scenarios. Trucking and other logistics companies should monitor key metrics for indications as to which scenario is arising and take actions now to position themselves for continued growth in any scenario.

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