Excellence in car transportation

06. 03. 2024

The Rail Cargo Group (RCG) transported a million vehicles in 2023. A brilliant logistical performance, driven by the desire to always find the best solution for the customer. Logistics experts Steve Roth and Claus Franke reveal how this works even in times of crisis.

In the automotive segment, timings have to be right, and today is no exception: 45 minutes have been planned for the interview. A couple of photos to begin with, then a quick overview of the presentation. Here is the automotive segment manager Steve Roth, who has been with the Rail Cargo Group for nine years. Steve makes sure everything in the automotive segment in the whole of Europe runs smoothly and all that everything comes together. Claus Franke, Key Account Manager, who has been at the RCG for six years sits next to him. His specialty: Transporting finished vehicles. Even during the research, it becomes clear: Automotive is complex. Let's not make it unnecessarily difficult for ourselves, let's start the interview with a simple question.

Automotive is all about transporting cars, right?

Steve: Yes, but not just that. Strictly speaking, there are three subsegments that we serve in the automotive segment. These are complete cars, we call them finished vehicles, that go out from the factories to the harbours of Europe and then to the rest of the world. We also transport car parts, from rims, to engines, hazardous materials like batteries to doors or car bodies. And then there are special transports, so everything large and heavy and that needs special licences. This includes transport for the Austrian Armed Forces that we carry out in Austria for example.

Are there certain main routes that you serve?

Claus: The main flows are certainly from the large factories in Germany or Hungary to the northern ports, especially Bremerhaven and Zeebrugge. But the port in Barcelona is also an important point of call in the south for us, which we call at every week from Austria. Furthermore, the Koper Port is very relevant for us as well, as we send 12 trains per week from Germany there. On the other hand, importing cars is also becoming increasingly important. More and more cars are coming to Europe from China – most notably electric cars. This has a great influence on our goods flow in Europe.

Can I transport cars better by train than with a lorry?

Claus: Absolutely, especially outbound, so when transporting finished vehicles. Currently 60% of all vehicles are already being transported by railway. This is because it is often not possible to handle such quantities with lorries. On a lorry, you may get seven or eight vehicles, on our up to 700 metre long trains, you can get 256! So if we are using five trains per day from one factory, you can imagine how many lorries that would be. This is quite a challenge to process and we can definitely score some points in this area as we act as a contact partner that offers solutions.

And what about individual parts that are delivered to car manufacturers for production?

Steve: For inbound – so transporting parts from the suppliers to the factories – a good 90% is still transported by lorries...

Claus: However, there is already a noticeable shift in thinking towards railway logistics!

In what way?

Steve: Claus means the increasing CO2 consciousness of the industry. Overall, major upheavals are currently taking place in not only the automotive sector, but also in the context of advancing electrification. As RCG and provider of green logistics we are in a special position that is increasingly in demand. Firstly, I recently had a meeting with a significant automobile manufacturer that would like to be carbon neutral by 2030. This only works if the whole logistics process is handled sustainably. That makes us unique and helps our customers to reach their goals more quickly and consistently in both inbound and outbound transport.

Is the effect that great?

Steve: Absolutely. I would say that transport alone is responsible for a good 30 per cent of the CO2 emissions produced by car manufacturers. This is because, to put it simply, manufacturers just assemble individual parts in their factories, but these come from all corners of the world. The potential is huge, especially because parts often still come by lorry.

Transporting by lorry also has advantages, as it is very flexible. How can you hold your own in such a time-sensitive environment - keyword "just-in-time deliveries"?

Steve: It’s true, the requirements of the car manufacturers are high. They not only organise their production according to the "just-in-time" process, but also according to "just-in-sequence". This means the right parts have to be delivered to the assembly line at the right time and in the right order. We are talking about daily slots and only two hour time windows...

Claus: These really need to be met. Otherwise the factory could come to a standstill. And no one wants that.

And what if everything goes wrong on occasion?

Steve: We always have a plan B, always a backup solution for every offer that we negotiate in close coordination with our customers. Our task is nothing less than the continued delivery of operative excellence. This ultimately means that if all else fails and a route is closed for whatever reason, we also help out with a lorry. We are logistics specialists and we want to carry out our tasks, come what may.

Some things however are unpredictable per se and sometimes have serious impacts. The Huthi Rebel’s continued assaults in the Red Sea for example. Aren’t you just helpless in this situation?

Steve: No one can predict these things and they are hitting the world economy with full force. At RCG, we have however learned a lot from the crises in the last years – and thanks to our presence in 18 countries, 13 of which with our in-house traction – we have found a way to at least weaken their impact. So if we see great changes in the world and the flow of goods is affected, then we place our capacities on new corridors so we can better deal with the changes. We have got quite good at it. Another example related to the Huthi-Rebels: The assaults in the Red Sea have led to significantly more goods being currently delivered via the northern ports instead of the southern ports. Sooner or later this will change again, and we presume that Barcelona or Koper will then be much stronger again.

It sounds like flexibility and the ability to find unusual solutions are essential for success in the automotive sector. Do you have a particular moment that you look back on fondly and where you were able to fully utilise these skills?

Claus: Last year, the first three trains travelled between the Czech Republic and Turkey. The route through the 14 kilometre long Marmaray-Tunnel in particular was a highlight for me, because no one had been allowed to travel through the tunnel in a car wagon before. We managed that as the first end-to-end rail logistics provider – among other things thanks to the great support of our Turkish colleagues, who did everything for us to get permission for the tunnel from the Turkish infrastructure. These are moments you look back on fondly.

Steve: For me it is surely Lamborghini. I was able convince them to completely switch from 40 lorries a week between Germany and Italy to the railway. This only worked because we at RCG took on the responsibility to ensure the door-to-door delivery for them. With a very good concept to achieve this operational excellence that the customer ultimately wants. This means Lamborghini can fully rely on us and concentrate on what they do best: building iconic sports cars.

2023 at a glance

  • Organisation of Europe-wide end-to-end deliveries
  • Total logistics from a single source – for new wagons as well as components, semi-finished and finished products
  • €100m. turnover per year
  • Transport of 1 million finished vehicles
  • 30 Employees

Are you interested in automotive transports? Please feel free to contact us directly here.