The world is on pause. Around the globe, 210 countries are battling COVID-19 at different stages of severity. Wuhan, China, where the cases of a “pneumonia with unknown cause” were first reported to the WHO just over 100 days ago, has now emerged from the other end of the tunnel and is starting to rebuild a new normality.
On routes linking Europe and the Far East, about 90% of passenger flights have been scrapped since Covid-19’s global spread began. This led to a major shortage of lower deck transport capacity, which all-cargo carriers were and still are not able to compensate on short notice. The daily growing discrepancy between high transport demand and limited transport supply was the starting point for kicking off the truck chains between the Far East and the West, InstaFreight’s helmsman confirms to CargoForwarder Global.
Timewise, road basically matches rail!
For example, his company has been offering regular trucking solutions from Xi'an in China’s Shaanxi Province to Central Europe for the past three weeks, marketed as door-door service. From day one, it has worked fairly well, he confirms, “since we committed our partners to only operate modern vehicles, this way lowering technical risks and upping the reliability of our trucking solutions.”
The road transports take between 16 and 22 days, depending on whether the trucks are driven by a two-man crew or only by a single person. “It’s a price issue. We offer the market both options,” Mr Ortwein states.
The driver choice also determines the length of the journey that can take between 16 (2 drivers) and 22 days. Although all trucks are GPS tracking system equipped, the running times of the vehicles on the 10,000 km vast transcontinental route can never be exactly predicted. Weather plays a role, the reloading of the goods from a Chinese truck to a European vehicle demanded by the authorities at all Chinese borders might take a couple of hours or even a full working day. Also, jams at customs checkpoints can turn out to be quite time-consuming along with customs procedures.
Encouraging preliminary results
However, apart from such imponderables, InstaFreight is in a position to make an initial preliminary assessment of these transports based on first experiences gained. “When comparing price and transport time we offer an interesting option to air, sea and rail,” the manager states.
All door-to-door deliveries are calculated individually, but despite small differences they amount to a fraction of the current air freight rates, the company claims in a release. And even the total running time of goods flown or trucked, shows a surprising outcome: “The times don’t differ greatly. Air freight is not much faster due to loading, unloading, customs issues, consolidations, feeding and de-feeding processes, but costs a lot more.” This is confirmed by founder and co-managing director, Maximilian Schaefer of InstaFreight: “Due to the current backlog of air freight shipments destined for Europe at the Chinese airports, on average we have almost the same overall runtime on the road as in the air.”
Will trans-Eurasian trucking become a real option?
It remains to be seen whether trucking across the Eurasian land bridge becomes a sustainable solution. Political correctness issues will surely play a role for western enterprises when placing transport orders since the greenhouse gas balance of trucking is very unfavorable compared to rail transport. Time will tell.
The current initiative of the Berlin-based digital freight forwarder to launch road transports across the Eurasian land bridge comes at a time when supply chains have faltered and industrial spare parts, medical items or protective materials produced in China are badly needed to keep Europe’s industries running again following the shutdown.
For each sealed transport contract, InstaFreight remains below the industry’s average margin of 15 to 20 percent of the agreed rate, assures Philipp Ortwein.
For 2019, the Berlin-based transport manager, who also runs two stations in Poland, reports a turnover in the higher double-digit million-euro range. “We will come out of the crisis stronger and expect to triple our annual sales in 2020,” he forecasts.
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