Sustainability and the spoils of Covid

The automotive industry has faced some unprecedented challenges over the last year, but it has also learned some important lessons.

Europe and the UK were already facing an uncertain future as trading partners when the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted logistics around world, making existing volatility at the ports across the European region worse. Restrictions on vehicle flows in the first half of the year were replaced by a resurgence in demand in the second half that was stronger than expected – a different type of pressure, but with a similar impact on port capacity. 

Those ports are still dealing with the repercussions of 2020 but, whether in the UK or mainland Europe, operators have been unanimous in their focus on safety of staff and investments in infrastructure and technology. As can be seen in our reviews of activity at the vehicle ports in mainland Europe and the UK, efficiency, flexibility and sustainability are key tenets for a sector moving forward to support the electric revolution in transport and automotive's zero-carbon goals.

Sustainability is also becoming more important for the vessels calling at those ports. Last year saw a further tightening in the rules laid down by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on vessel emissions, yet transporting vehicles and parts by sea continues to cause a lot of pollution. One only has to reflect on the number of vessels that built up in the Suez Canal over one week during the recent obstruction caused by the giant container ship M/V Ever Given to recognise just how many big ships are moving around the world at any one time. Nevertheless, there are positive steps being made to clean up the process and investments made in new fuels and bridging technologies to cut emissions, as our article in this edition on sustainable shipping explores.

Sustainability is also informing VW Group’s ambitious plans for electrification over the next decade. At the recent Volkswagen Power Day, held in March, the carmaker revealed plans to support the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) by significantly increasing battery cell production capacity in Europe and reshaping the EV battery supply chain in Europe. 

To support the inbound supply of battery cells to its VW Group Components plant in Brunswick, Germany, which is building the battery modules, the company has developed a standardised and returnable thermoplastic container that can also be used to move the completed batteries by rail to its EV-making plants, including Zwickau. According to VW the containers are part of a holistic logistic concept, which you can learn more about on page 11.

These different approaches to a more sustainable future are supported by advances in IT and digital technology. As can be seen from the latest activity at the ports in Europe and the UK, operators are using a range of tools to drive efficiency into processes. To take one example, at the beginning of this month Associated British Ports (ABP) revealed it was making the port of Southampton – the UK’s busiest vehicle-handling port – the first UK mainland port to offer its automotive customers a private 5G network. The company is working with Verizon Business and Nokia on the network, which will be operational by the summer of 2021.

In this edition you can also read our interview with Vijay Ratnaparkhe, chief information officer (CIO) at tier one supplier Bosch Rexroth, who is taking a dual approach to the company’s IT and digitalisation strategy. The company is developing apps in a hybrid cloud platform and is providing data services and artificial intelligence (AI) for connected mobility and global engineering, manufacturing and logistics.

The automotive industry has learned some important lessons from the disruption of the last year, making some significant technology investments in response. While no-one was completely prepared, the industry greatly benefited from the lessons it learned in the wake of the Fukushima earthquake, which hit global supply chains ten years ago this March. It was one of the biggest disruptions to the global automotive sector and exposed the lack of visibility in supply beyond the tier one level. Some lessons were learned quickly in the wake of the original disaster, as they have been during the Covid crisis, but what about longer term? In this issue Mazda, Nissan and Toyota tell us about what has been achieved in the ten years since the earthquake hit and how that disruption changed their approach to supply chain management.

The key tenets of efficiency, flexibility and sustainability driving the industry forward, as well as the lessons learned from last year, will be informing discussions at the forthcoming Automotive Logistics Supply Chain Europe Live conference, which takes place online between April 20-21. We hope to see you there. 

Marcus Williams
Editor, Automotive Logistics Digital Editions

Editor, Automotive Logistics Digital Editions Marcus Williams - marcus.williams@automotivelogistics.media

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