As Antarctic temperatures hit the UK last week, with snow and ice bringing many parts of the country to a standstill, automotive logistics companies have been forced to implement a number of measures to protect vehicles, find alternative routes and ensure the safety of drivers and staff.
It is the longest period of sub-zero weather the UK has seen for almost 30 years and snowfall around the country has been at record levels, including 48cm (19in) in Aviemore, 19cm (7.5in) at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, and 17cm (7in) in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
The situation has been hampered by short supplies of road grit and salt, with only major roads being treated in several places.
At Honda’s operations in Avonmouth, where it has a distribution centre, activity was suspended for 24 hours last Wednesday as snow and ice affected the safety of vehicle movements and personnel on site.
“A third party was used to supply bulldozers to clear snow from the main routes and pathways on site, and from the load pads to allow deliveries and new vehicle preparation,” said Honda spokesman Steve Kirk. “The Avonmouth site was operational again by Thursday mid-afternoon and there was minimal disruption for Honda dealers in the UK; only 114 cars were delayed, and in most cases only by one day.”
The carmaker also closed its factory in Swindon temporarily last week.
Meanwhile, at CAT Group’s Teesport facility in the Northeast, while there has been no real problem with loading vehicles onto trucks beyond ensuring both decks and vehicles are de-iced, onwards delivery has presented problems with closures on certain routes.
“For us, Scotland was probably the worst hit,” said Greg Brown, CAT Group’s centre manager at Teesport. “The A66 Bowes/Brough area has shut regularly, spoiling the route that we use to the west and northwest,” he told Automotive Logistics News.
Brown said that the company’s drivers chose safer, diverted routes: “Delivery may have been slow but we got there in the end.”
The snow and ice affecting the compound meant staying out of the storage and parking locations to avoid damage. “The vehicles are fine, and are prepared and protected with compliant fluids to operate in cold weather,” said Brown. “Opening frozen doors and windows can cause problems, windows in particular, placing a huge strain on electric operated motors, [so] we avoid the operation of the window until de-ice of the vehicle is complete.”
Brown added that CAT Group’s own efforts have been affected by suppliers not able to deliver part and materials but said that staff at Teesport have made every effort to overcome the difficulties of getting to work in order to fulfil customer needs.
Help was at hand from emergency logistics providers including Evolution Time Critical,
which reported an upsurge in demand for its services during the bad weather. The company estimates it may have saved customers up to €30m so far by preventing line stoppages.
“We calculate that since the snow disrupted European road networks we have helped manufacturers to avoid line stoppages of up to 30 hours, which, with line stoppages costing anything up to €20,000 per minute, represents a significant saving,” said the company’s managing director Brad Brennan. “In one instance we saved a UK-based manufacturer £270,000 by helping to prevent a 30-minute delay to their production line.”
At Gefco, centre managers have been holding daily meetings with the Met Office at 6am, and again at lunchtime, to assess the weather conditions and take important decisions about activity for the day.
Safety was a central concern at the company. Commenting on the situation facing automotive movements, Alan Hale Commercial Operations Manager said:
"We are monitoring the situation closely in every RDC, technical centre and route that we use in the UK to make sure that existing or forecast weather conditions will not put any of our drivers and loads at risk.
“Like many other businesses in the UK, recent weather has had an impact on our business but we are doing everything we can to maintain the high level of service our customers are used to, whilst ensuring the safety of our staff," he said.
Meanwhile, aftermarket supplier Euro Car Parts has reported that it has managed to fulfil the vast majority of customers' orders throughout the UK during January despite the weather.
“All 72 branches have remained open and stock deliveries from the Wembley warehouse have been delivered to the network as usual, with additional stock being delivered due to the demand from the network,” said a company statement.
Safety was also one of the company’s priorities.
"We've been very keen to stress to importance of safety to all our staff whilst travelling in these treacherous conditions but it makes us very proud to hear stories of our branch teams carrying parts on foot and digging their vans out to get through back roads to deliver parts to more remote customers," said Euro Car Parts spokeswoman Donna West.
The company reported that the huge demand for parts to repair the damage caused by minor accidents during the adverse conditions have led ECP to purchase an additional £5m ($8.1m) of lights, bumpers, wing mirrors, bonnets and wings.