Shipping lines could be using the slowdown in vehicle movements and container volume to develop new trade lanes, according to Volkswagen Logistics’ Andrea Eck, Head of Outbound Logistics for the logistics division of Europe’s largest carmaker.
“At the moment there is a very good chance to develop new lanes and additional capacity on certain trades,” she told Automotive Logistics last week in Wolfsburg. “During the days of limited capacity, there was no time to make these evaluations, but today there is a real need.”
Mrs Eck declined to comment on which lanes in particular VW would like to see developed further. However, the company opened a new factory in Pune, India just weeks ago that will initially require the import of material from Europe while Indian localisation develops. VW is building a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the southern US, and also has an expanding presence in South America.
VW Logistics, which combines the company’s logistics activity at a group level, has seen a sharp rise in the diversity of international volumes, growing from 7 to 21 different lanes in recent years for containers, reaching 140,000 TEU last year. It also managed the movement of 4.2m vehicles out of the VW Group’s total 2008 sales of 6.3m (the 2.1m vehicle balance was managed at regional levels, mainly in China). 
VW is also using the current time to improve some of its own processes, by attempting to better integrate the requirements of outbound transport into the process system planning of the plants. “If you have a very close production of cars for France or Italy close together on the production line, then this system helps you to plan the optimal train or truck available,” said Mrs Eck.
This method is currently in a pilot stage, and VW will have the first results at the end of May. “We expect positive impacts like the reduction of lead time, better combinations and thus also to lower CO2 emissions,” she said.
Mrs Eck spoke of the importance of VW and providers making the investments necessary to plan for a recovery, particularly for port handling and infrastructure volumes. “Not just in places like India, but also in Germany,” she said. “Now is the time to fix hinterland connections and handling operations, so that when volumes return, we have smooth flows.”
But VW is also among the few OEMs looking at positive territory in Europe even in the short term. Thanks in large part to the success of the German scrappage incentive, the company is adding 11 additional shifts in Wolfsburg in May and June, along with 15 extra shifts for Golf production in Zwickau.