HONEY, I LOST THE TRUCK!
1° National Meeting on Industrial vehicle parts
Relocation to Eastern Europe undermines transport vehicle registrations in Italy and, with them, the aftermarket industry. Yet the signs of recovery are there. And with them, the hopes of a complete industrial restructuring which concerns not only companies but also dealers and workshops
The serious structural problems plaguing the road transport sector in Italy is not exactly a mystery: excessive number of companies, relocation or competition from East European countries, lawlessness and poor controls. But what are the consequences of this situation on maintenance as well as the Italian aftermarket? A conference organized last May 22 at Autopromotec attempted to provide satisfying answers: the first National Meeting dedicated to commercial vehicle spare parts.
An industry driven by peculiar logics, difficult to explain without putting together the various pieces of the puzzle. The first factor to be analyzed relates to freight traffic performance in Italy. According to data presented by Marisa Saglietto, ANFIA’s Studies and Statistics supervisor, in 2008 180.5 metric-tons/kilometer travelled on Italian roads, a figure that subsequently fell to 127.2 in 2013. A loss of 29, 5%, only partially offset by the modest positive figures that have been recorded by the road transport sector in Italy since 2013. And to think that, during the same years, booming figures were recorded in Poland (+ 50%) and Bulgaria (+ 77%): in short, the road transport center of gravity has been shifting from the Italy-Benelux axis, more and more towards East. Also due, this must be said, to the relocation of Italian trucking companies – as well as German, French and Dutch companies - towards nations that, in terms of driver’s wages, practice a true social dumping; to the point that, Saglietto underlined, "for 2016 the presentation of a package of measures by the European Union aimed at stemming the flow is expected". We shall see.
The abnormal drop of circulating vehicles
Meanwhile, however, this phenomenon is having a huge impact on vehicle registrations. The number of circulating vehicles, stable despite years of crisis, such as in 2009, suffered a sudden drop since 2012, the beginning of a mass exodus towards east European countries by trucking companies, opening more or less fictitious subsidiaries and offices: in fact, according to ANFIA, there are 17% less vehicles currently in circulation compared with 2002. As far as new over 3.5 ton vehicle registrations are concerned, a segment that saw more than 35 thousand new registrations in 2008 currently manages only about 15 thousand (-63%), with a rather insignificant growth since 2013. And the same goes for trailers, from 16 thousand in 2008 to less than 7 thousand in 2014 (despite government incentives for intermodal road vehicles). True, so far 2015 has seen some positive signs, in fact from January to April, mid-sized vehicles sales increased by 2%, while heavy duty vehicles scored an even more encouraging 12%. Even more encouraging was the performance of semitrailers, up by a staggering 77%.
What has happened to supply networks?
All this has generated a widespread aging of transport vehicles in Italy, given that 61% of industrial vehicles currently in circulation exceeds the 15th year of age. With major consequences in terms of road safety and pollution, not to mention competitiveness. And here is where the aftermarket comes into play: Luca Montagner, research director of ICDP Italy, recently presented the results of a study dedicated to manufacturing companies’ official retail networks, taking into consideration both official dealers and authorized workshops. The study revealed that, from 2009 to 2012, official dealers dropped from 239 to 189, while retail outlets went from 370 to 317, with regional agencies, in some cases, passing under the direct control of the Manufacturer. Iveco, the most considerable network, saw official dealers drop by 45% and retail outlets by 26%. Similarly, the Volvo Trucks network decreased by 35 and 25% respectively; Mercedes-Benz went down by 49 and 40%; Scania scored a -30 and -39%; Daf -47 and -53%; Man -54 and -50%; Renault Trucks -36 and -48%. Moreover, if we add to these the numbers recorded by authorized garages, we get a 21% decrease in service points for Iveco, -19% for Mercedes-Benz, -49% for Scania, Renault Trucks scores a -37%, -19% for Man and Volvo Trucks and finally a -21% for Daf.
Clearly, a sharp decline. Also because, similarly to what is happening with cars, customer loyalty towards authorized networks drops, indeed collapses, over the years in favor of independent workshops. Independent workshops in the trucking world? Yes, though not quite as in the automotive world. In this case, the ties with the manufacturing company are crucial, given the importance of maintenance in view of reducing operating costs. The Iveco network could be viewed as a successful model: here, in addition to an authorized dealer network with their workshops, there is a nationwide network of authorized workshops, free to work independently also for the other brands. Of course, competitors are not just going to watch without doing anything about it, and recently other authorized dealers have studied innovative services that have greatly increased business volume. Among the examples brought by Montagner we find the Florence based Truck Italia, a Mercedes-Benz dealer, which has developed a Night & Day program: 24-hour assistance during weekdays and from 6 am until 12 on Saturday, with night-time availability of the warehouse, a strategy that resulted in increased revenues despite higher labor costs. Another example is the Man dealer Arduni & Eurodiesel in Verona, which started an assistance program on tires, trailers and semi-trailers as well as buses, increasing the turnover by 200 thousand Euro between 2013 and 2014.
In short, the heat is on: also because our road transport, despite the crisis, has a future. Shifting freight from road to rail will be beneficial only in case of very long distance transport, which requires the contribution of trucks anyway. The sector’s heavy restructuring process, currently in progress, if supported by adequate national and EU policies, will contribute to the rise of new important players at international level, capable of combining trucking services and logistics as well as other quality services, going beyond the traditional price lever. Therefore, relax people: trucks, and with them the aftermarket industry, are alive and kicking.