Automotive logistics, by definition, always moves. From sorting material at crossdocks to loading in ports, sailing, trucking or flying, the supply chain is in constant flux. So too is the automotive logistics industry itself. A struggling European market brings not only painful cuts, but also changes in logistics strategies. GM’s decision to outsource its European logistics management to Gefco, the logistics arm of its alliance partner PSA, resuscitates the fully fledged ‘4PL’ – an outsourcing concept that GM itself nearly killed off last decade when it took another 4PL experiment, Vector, back in house.

This time the move is a fact of economic necessity as GM tries to turn around Opel. It’s too soon to judge the outcome, but Gefco is among the best-placed providers in the European region to take on these responsibilities.

Gefco is also at the centre of its owner’s economic storm, as PSA sells equity in the provider to raise cash. While the deal is not yet completed, there is perhaps no better symbol of the economic shifts in the industry than the Russian state railways, RZD, outgunning American and French private equity to buy control of Gefco.

Manufacturers and providers are also contending with a changing set of trade regulations. Russia joined the World Trade Organisation in August following two decades of negotiations, and while the move will not transform it overnight into a perfectly fair and free trading nation (if such a thing existed), it should allow some clarity on import guidelines – at least until the authorities find other ways to protect their own turf (see p6 for more).

And, like many others, protect they will. The US has filed a complaint regarding subsidies against China, while Latin America proves that neither the WTO nor trade agreements can prevent trade wars (see p14).

But logistics does not live and die solely at the mercy or malevolence of trade agreements or this month’s sales figures. Change as conditions might, OEMs need the best possible efficiency within their own national and international constraints. Toyota in Europe is a shining example, where Levent Yuksel has overseen a fine-tuning of the inbound network, including changes to crossdock locations, while he is also eyeing changes to outbound operations and contract management (p24). Continuous improvement remains the Toyota mantra, while continuous movement and change define the entire sector.

Christopher Ludwig, Editor
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