Automotive Blog

Empty Running

Car Loading Sticks

Image credit: Wallenius Wilhelmsen

At a recent conference in Liverpool, Ruud Vossbeld of Inform suggested to me that a big shift in transport efficiency, and so emissions and costs, could come about through the emergence of an ‘Uber for logistics’. It’s a great idea. Empty running is an issue that the automotive sector worries about but seems to struggle to prioritise, particularly in the 'last delivery' phase. Finished vehicles struggle with back loading, despite the sheer number of used car and other requirements, and parts delivery to independent garages, and even franchised workshops, is notorious for partially filled vehicles. Beyond the network of calls and contacts, there has been much talk of exchanges over the last fifteen years, to help aid load and capacity optimisation, but there seem to be barriers opening up the capacity of networks. Manufacturers and logistics service providers together need a universal, a trusted equivalent to airbnb (the marketplace for short accommodation letting), that allows a standardisation of quality and service level agreements. Easier said than done perhaps, but something the industry wants and needs.

Looking further ahead, there is much talk of autonomous cars entering the market in ten to fifteen years. It may therefore be premature to be talking about the transport implications, but some quite startling implications for logistics arise from the possibilities of driverless cars, again discussed at the Liverpool event. Firstly, there are potential implications for the management of compounds, and loading and unloading of ships and trains – will stevedores be required, and if not, can cars be parked closer together so saving land and space costs? Some doubted whether an automated system could be more precise in loading vehicles onto car transporters, but to others it seemed no different to the advance of robotics and automation in car assembly or other areas of materials handling and storage. As seen in other phases of automation, the social implications could be significant for local areas with a high employment dependency on ports, compounds and transportation. Furthermore, if more automation is the consequence, will the existing materials handling equipment be suitable, given that investments now are expected to last for twenty years or more? A second, and more radical possibility is that cars deliver themselves! Empty running may take on a very different meaning when equated with delivery mileage of a car that has delivered itself to your front door…

Written by Ben Waller
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