Calls for innovation in the vehicle logistics sector can often be found on the pages of this magazine and at our conferences. Executives from OEMs and providers regularly accuse one another of being too entrenched in established practices and too proprietary about their own data.

But what does innovation in this sector look like? Many focus on IT, equipment and collaboration. Some want tracking technology to pinpoint a car’s location at any given point in time, or at least approximate such precision. New equipment has been developed that can help move between modes of transport, and even convert to carry different types of freight (such as a car or a container). Finally, many experts discuss the need for ‘silo-breaking’ initiatives across supply chain departments, suppliers and even competitors.

There are many examples where the above areas have been pursued with success or failure. In all likelihood, these are the sorts of developments that will still be debated for another decade as they evolve. But there is also innovation that can be implemented quickly and with fast payoffs. The Volkswagen Group has demonstrated a number of these with a focus on shifting more volume onto rail and multimodal transport flows, as well as reducing holding times.

The group is proving that it can meet its logistics targets, including reducing emissions and order-to-deliver cycles, as well as it can meet sales targets. Andrea Eck, general manager for outbound, describes the successful application of new concepts (p22) which include the introduction 2 of ‘regional hubs’ where the group aggregates vehicles into block trains or full truckloads. With cars held at these stations for a matter of hours before shipping, the hubs are as close to a crossdock as anything that exists in the outbound sphere. Their rollout across Europe is helping to improve fill rates and move more vehicles by rail. While mindful of the increasing complexity of the group’s distribution network, Volkswagen seems willing to apply methods in its vehicle logistics that might still be in the conceptual phase for other OEMs.

Is the group really that far ahead? Perhaps it’s the momentary shine that shimmers on the day’s most successful companies; or the perception of highly efficient and wellengineered German planning (a stereotype that oft-late German passenger trains disprove if you spend enough time in the country – it’s the Swiss trains that are never late). Nevertheless, the group is, at least in Europe, taking the lead in putting new ideas into practice. The good news is that these are ideas that the entire industry can apply.

Christopher Ludwig, Editor
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