Lufthansa Cargo: Mercedes-Benz on board.
“These cars are no normal vehicles.”
We would all wish we could park like this. Andreas Rothweiler presses the accelerator and drives with uncanny assurance, even going backwards up five-metre ramps to the high-loader platform, is hauled up another good five metres, presses the accelerator again and drives straight onto the aircraft. He does this 20 times. Once he’s finished, Lufthansa Cargo’s MD-11F at Frankfurt Airport has 16 cars on its main deck and another four stowed away on its lower deck. Ten of the vehicles have black covers over them while lined up in a row on the apron. These have to be removed by necessity once Andreas Rothweiler takes the wheel. You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to tell that these are no normal vehicles. Their paintwork has been replaced by a film that looks like a modified zebra print. Andreas Rothweiler is Managing Director of the car-go forwarding company in Stuttgart and a specialist in loading Mercedes-Benz cars.
Mules for ice testing.
The Stuttgart-based automotive manufacturer Mercedes-Benz wants to put these cars, which don’t even officially exist (known as “mules” in the trade), through winter testing in the US under realistic conditions. Hence the camouflaging. Ten prototypes and ten normal Mercedes-Benz vehicles are heading off for comparison tests in the snow and ice. Of course, new cars can also be tested in the company’s own cold chamber. But this would be like a pharmaceutical company trialling its flu remedy in the Caribbean. That is why Mercedes-Benz has opted for a test site in Bemidji, in the north of the US state of Minnesota. There, in the “icebox region” of the US, temperatures of minus 20 degrees in winter are more the norm than the exception.
Michael Schmid, Account Manager Sales at Lufthansa Cargo in Stuttgart, has engineered the business with car-go. He knows Andreas Rothweiler personally. This creates trust. Since the charter business was integrated into Lufthansa Cargo in March 2013, the five-member crew around Daniel Schlattner in Frankfurt has been working flat out. 50 charters were organised in 2014 alone, and the numbers continue to rise.
Cargo on four wheels.
“We can only be successful if all involved in the different divisions pull together”, emphasises Schlattner. This includes colleagues from Aircraft Handling. Dieter Czejka, for example, who drove especially to Stuttgart to test whether the Mercedes-Benz could be loaded in the lower deck without damaging the narrow door. Wolfgang Klug is also a long-standing member of the team of automotive experts. The ramp agent has gained so much experience in loading and unloading cars that he now flies regularly all over the world for this. The Lufthansa Cargo employees are not the only reason the valuable cargo on four wheels is in the best hands. The carrier’s logistics solutions are also specifically tailored to the automotive industry. The petrol in the tank and the battery under the bonnet mean that every car transport represents a shipment of dangerous goods, which must be handled with special care.
Standard shipment and emergency logistics.
Transporting entire vehicles on board a freighter is one thing, but: “We generate far more business by transporting individual parts, booked as more or less time-critical shipments”, says Konrad Moser. Processes in the automotive industry are shaped by the global division of labour. For example, countless vehicle parts are manufactured in Europe and installed in Asia or North America. And important transport streams also flow in the opposite direction between North and South America or within Asia.
In order to avoid high import duties, vehicles are sometimes transported thousands of kilometres in just their constituent parts before being assembled in their respective destination markets. Minimal lead times, tight timeframes and just-in-time management are meant to keep on-site stocks low on the one hand, but production bottlenecks and downtime still have to be avoided on the other.
350 Engines. One airplane.
And German automotive manufacturers don’t just book entire charters for extreme testing in deserts or cold spots alone. Konrad Moser knows that the transport of German export hits has long become routine when the big Auto Show in Detroit in January rolls near, the latest and most expensive cars are showcased in Shanghai at the end of April and hundreds of thousands flock to the Tokyo Motor Show in October and November. The Key Account Manager, who recently celebrated 40 years of service with the company, is the automotive expert at Lufthansa’s cargo arm. And if there are snags in production of the manufacturers, Lufthansa Cargo’s Emergency Solutions express product comes into its own. However, not all car parts are flown using the most expensive express product, of course. “Spare parts from brakes and engine electronics through to mudguards are often flown with “td.Pro” as ‘standard shipments’, while “td.Flash” is also available as a tried-and-tested express option for such products”, said Moser. He sent 350 engines, each weighing 1,500 kilogrammes, from the Daimler plant in Germany to Tokyo as an urgent shipment in spring 2012. Daimler’s partner “Fuso” wanted to process additional orders at short notice.
Initial spark: volcanic eruptions.
The Emergency.Solutions product has the eruption of Iceland’s unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull volcano to thank for its “coming into being” – and, of course, the specific needs of the automotive industry. With flight traffic largely grounded over Northern and Central Europe in September 2010, many of the industry’s production sites soon ground to a halt as well and the question was posed: can Lufthansa Cargo offer a product that would ensure capacities on the next possible flight to the required destination – without any weight restriction? “We then took the idea and came up with a specific solution, tested it successfully in the market and in operational processes for six months and then launched it worldwide”, adds Jörn Clausen, Product & Solutions Management Time-Critical Logistics. “Emergencies can arise at any time – in real life and in logistics. In principle, the service works like an emergency ambulance: one call, immediately available and right of way in every respect”, says Clausen. He estimates that around a third of the emergency shipments to date have come from the automotive sector.