The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Strong Truck, Van Sales Constrain Rail to Delay OTD

October 2015, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

It is a case of good news and bad news. The good news is that retail and fleet demand for automotive products in the 2015 model-year was extremely strong. The bad news is that the automotive logistics system, rail in particular, was constrained, despite strong efforts by the railroads to add locomotives and rail cars to move these assets. As a result, order-to-delivery times (OTD) for the 2015 model-year were up compared to MY-2014; with the longest delays, primarily concentrated in certain vehicle segments.

"Overall, we have seen a slight increase in OTD for all models compared to 2014. The increase ranges are from one to two weeks and the units impacted the most were van models," said Cindy Gomez, director of vehicle acquisition services for Donlen.

This assessment was echoed by other fleet management companies (FMCs).

At A Glance

The top factors influencing OTD during the 2015 model-year were:

  • Rail-car shortages
  • Quality inspections and quality holds
  • Missed ship-thrus
  • Option holds and parts availability shortages
  • Cancelled orders
  • Weather-related delays

"When you look at the OTD averages across all 2015 models, there was a slight increase across some vehicle segments compared to 2014. This was due to several manufacturers experiencing delays, such as rail-car shortages, extended quality holds on redesigned or new models, vehicles missing the ship-thru upfitter, parts shortages, and production capacity issues," said Jessica Krams, manager, vehicle order management for Wheels Inc.

One vehicle segment with decreased times was the van segment.

"In general, OTD times have increased year-over-year across most segments. The only exception to this was the van segment, which decreased by 10 days on average from 2014 to 2015," said Jamie Wallace, manager, vehicle acquisitions for LeasePlan USA.

However, this wasn't the case with high-roof vans.

"Overall, 2015 was very similar to 2014 with the industry still seeing delays due to rail-car shortages, specifically related to vans with high rooftops. For 2015, one of the factors impacting an increase in OTD time is quality holds in various models," said Nick Erculiani, vice president of vehicle operations for Element Fleet Management.

FMCs have a wide variety of clients ordering a diversity of vehicles and all reported an increase in OTD times.

"Although it is difficult to establish an exact comparison with many new products coming to market, our analysis shows an average of seven-and-a-half day increase in OTD from MY-2014 to MY-2015," said Partha Ghosh, director of supply chain management for ARI.

This was similarly reported by Merchants Fleet Management.

"We are showing a steady trend of increased delivery times for the 2015 model-year compared to 2014," said Howard Goldman, vehicle purchasing manager for Merchants Fleet Management.

The top factors influencing OTD during the 2015 model-year were:

  • Rail-car shortages
  • Quality inspections and quality holds
  • Missed ship-thrus
  • Option holds and parts availability shortages
  • Cancelled orders
  • Weather-related delays

These were among some of the findings of Automotive Fleet’s 16th annual OTD survey, which was based on data and analyses provided by seven fleet management company (FMC) survey partners including ARI, Donlen, Element Fleet Management, EMKAY, LeasePlan USA, Merchants Fleet Management, and Wheels Inc.

The AF OTD survey tracked deliveries of approximately 129,170 new vehicles in the 2015 model-year, representing 99 different models.

The survey methodology calculated OTD times for cars from the day an order was placed with a factory to vehicle delivery to a dealer (not driver pickup). Truck OTD was calculated from order placement to delivery to an upfitter or, if no upfitting was required, to a dealer. The days spent at an upfitter were not included in truck OTD times.

Rail Car Shortages

Rail constraints have been a common problem for fleet deliveries for a number of years and 2015 was no different.

“The competition for rail cars and rail routes has made it extremely challenging for all OEMs,” said Jim Tangney, VP of vehicle acquisition for EMKAY.

However, the key reason is the limited number of rail cars that can accommodate larger-sized trucks and vans.

“Rail-related issues in transporting vehicles to market continue to challenge the industry. Rail cars are just one of many contributing factors. There are a limited number of cars and they are in high demand, especially the bi-level rail cars. The increase in demand for SUVs, trucks, and vans has further exacerbated this shortage,” said Elizabeth Kelly, director of operations for LeasePlan USA.

A similar observation was made by Ghosh of ARI.

“Over the course of the model-year, manufacturers were challenged by logistical issues when moving vehicles from the factory lot to the end destination and this caused delays. Also, the increasing trend toward vans (especially the high-roof configurations) has led to an increased demand for uni-level rail cars, which is less efficient as measured by the number of vehicles that can be transported per rail car. The OEMs responded by expanding the ways in which they moved the vehicles, adding trucking in addition to rail, expanding truck-away programs, requesting more bi-/tri-level rail cars, and prioritizing fleet/sold units over retail units,” said Ghosh.

One affected area was the Baltimore port, which is the port of entry for Ford Transit Connects. “Ford also experienced delays to Transit Connect at its Baltimore port with units not getting returned promptly from the local upfitters and then delays due to rail-car shortages,” said Tangney of EMKAY.

This observation was echoed by Krams at Wheels. “The availability of bi-level and tri-level rail cars — which are needed to ship medium- and high-roof Transit vans — was limited this year. This created a backlog of vans at the plant and caused delays in shipping to and from upfitters,” said Krams.

Just as with quality holds, one annoying aspect for fleet managers is that once backlogged vehicles re-enter the OEM transportation system, the last vehicles tend to be the first ones picked up, not vice versa.

“One recurring trend identified is when manufacturers get backlogged due to rail-car transport; vehicles tend to be moved with a ‘last in, first out’ approach rather than a ‘first in, first out.’ This causes inconsistency in OTD times, significant delays for particular vehicles, and overall disruption for delivery to the appropriate channels,” said Erculiani of Element Fleet Management.

Two other factors cited as contributing to the rail-car delays were the West Coast Longshoreman work slowdown and the Canadian Pacific Railway strike, according to Kelly of LeasePlan USA.

Increased Use of Car Haulers

One beneficiary of the rail congestion is the vehicle hauling industry, with many OEMs having a positive experience with truck haulers, they are considering making some of these switches permanent. While there is an additional cost to move vehicles long distances by truck, it is less expensive than having vehicles sit stranded waiting for rail pickup.

OEMs are also using car haulers to minimize rail congestion.

“OEMs are also using additional truck carriers in an attempt to bypass congestion at ramps and rail yards; however, as noted, these carriers are not always fully trained on each manufacturer’s processes and procedures, which not only result in vehicles being miss-shipped, but also create delays in status reporting. We often have had to contact dealers directly to secure delivery confirmation,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

One common alternative to avoiding rail constraints was the contracting of car haulers.
“All manufacturers have increased their utilization of local truck carriers to expand their normal delivery radius to help clear out rail and shipping yards. Some OEMs even moved vehicles to other shipping hub locations where rail cars were more plentiful,” said Tangney of EMKAY.

One form of transportation that OEMs are using as an alternative to rail is car hauler companies.

“The OEMs rely on carriers not only to transport the vehicles from the rail head to the dealership, but also on their car carrier drivers to report back to them the ‘delivered to dealer date.’ Once the date is provided by the carrier driver to the OEM, the OEM then feeds this date to FMC partners. This extended data-capture process obviously results in non-real-time visibility to arrival at the dealership, and our analysis indicates that, on average, the vehicle is at the dealer for three days prior to our receiving the delivered date information, which is a significant gap from a real-time visibility perspective,” said Ghosh of ARI.

“Manufacturers have taken steps to avoid rail bottlenecks by trucking vehicles to other ramps and rail yards for shipment out to dealers. This has helped, but has also caused vehicles to miss the ship-thru upfitter,” added Krams. “Some manufacturers have indicated they are taking additional steps to move vehicles that have been sitting for 30 days or longer; however, we have yet to see any noticeable improvement from these efforts.”

But, it wasn’t always easy to find certified haulers. “Manufacturers try to bypass some rail routes, but run into a lack of certified carriers and equipment,” said Brad Vliek, VP client solutions for EMKAY.

Another factor was caused by the increase in sales of the larger Euro-style vans. “There was limited availability of larger carriers to accommodate bigger trucks and vans,” said Ghosh of ARI.

Fewer Quality Holds

Delays due to quality holds have emerged as an OTD issue for the past several years, which tend to spike when there is an increase in all-new model introductions.

“The OEMs have placed an increased emphasis on quality, and, as a result, have imposed a detailed inspections process before plants can release vehicles for shipment. While this has resulted in better quality vehicles leaving the manufacturing plants, it has also been a contributing factor to delivery delays,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

Predictably, the quality holds were especially evident with redesigned and all-new models.

“For example, this year we saw extended quality holds on the Ford Edge, Chevrolet Colorado, and the new Ford Transit. Frequently, manufacturers were unable to project when the vehicles would ship. In some cases, vehicles sat waiting to be released for upwards of 60 days or more. This also results in a backlog of vehicle inventory at the assembly plants and outside storage yards where vehicles are awaiting shipment,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

“Early Ford Edge production was hampered by quality holds and we experienced some very long delays for several of our orders,” said Tangney of EMKAY.

Another vehicle segment hit by quality holds was vans. “Quality holds did impact order to delivery on several cargo van models, which included the Ford Transit Connect, Transit, and E-350 that have resulted in a minimum of a 30-day delay,” said Gomez of Donlen.

Some models were more prone to quality hold issues than others. “We experienced quality hold issues, primarily with the Ford Edge and Flex models. Several thousand Edge orders were delayed for inspection and little information was made available regarding the reasons for the delays,” said Tangney of EMKAY.

However, some viewed quality holds as having a negligible impact on OTD.

“In general, quality holds were not a material factor for OTD in 2015. There was only one model that had a quality hold significant enough to affect its OTD times, and it was not a major model for our clients. However, there were a number of parts shortages for many of the newer models that needed to be repaired, which did create issues for some clients,” said Ghosh of ARI.

This observation was seconded by LeasePlan USA. “We did not see any new model holds for MY-2015,” said Kelly of LeasePlan USA.

Others saw quality holds increase particularly with new models. “We saw an increase with new-model quality holds,” said Erculiani of Element Fleet Management.

Nowadays, many fleets view quality holds as a fact of life. “Quality holds will always appear, but have not been significant for 2015. A small batch of Ford Edges caused a headache as it proved to be difficult to receive accurate and steady communication on the problem. The GM batch inspection process has also slowed down delivery significantly,” said Goldman of Merchants Fleet Management.

Missed Ship-Thrus

Railway backlogs have impacted ship-thru units requiring upfitted equipment. But, the increased use of truck carriers has similarly contributed to the increase in missed ship-thrus.

“Several manufacturers have begun using newer truck carriers in an attempt to bypass congestion at ramps and rail yards; however, these carriers are not always fully trained on each manufacturer’s processes and procedures. This has resulted in an increase in the number of vehicles that missed the ship-thru upfitter,” said Krams of Wheels Inc. “When this happens, customers experience extended delivery delays whether the vehicle is backhauled or the upfitting is handled locally.”

Option & Parts Constraints

Parts availability and option constraints occur when sales volumes exceed forecasted production volume.

“The number of options and model configurations that were delayed this year due to parts availability was higher than in previous years. Order banks were often opened for several weeks or months before parts and configurations were buildable,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

One factor contributing to the option constraints was higher-than-anticipated demand for some models.

“Factory and equipment constraints are pushing back production schedules consistently. We have noticed that many factories are not able to keep up with the demand on certain models,” said Goldman of Merchants.

Stronger-than-Expected Demand

Fleet sales are up approximately 10 percent and retail sales are similarly strong, which creates a situation when retail sales compete with fleet allocations.

“Extraordinary order times for specific models, including GM full-size vans such as the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana. The Chevrolet Colorado has also just exploded onto the fleet scene and it is fair to say that GM could not keep up with the demand. We do not believe that GM anticipated the high volume of orders that this truck received for 2015,” said Goldman of Merchants.

This was succinctly summarized by Kelly of LeasePlan USA: “There was high demand and low supply.”

This was also cited by Ghosh of ARI. “Vehicle demand exceeded capacity for specific models.”

Two very popular fleet units, the Ford Fusion and Escape, had fast OTD because of improved fleet allocation.

“The bulk of our orders were for the Fusion and Escape models and they showed consistent year-over-year OTD times of just over 60 days. Escape and Fusion models were all-new in the 2013-MY, so there is a much better fleet allocation for these models,” said Tangney of EMKAY.

Cancelled Orders

One consequence of strong fleet and retail sales is that not all ordered vehicles for a particular model-year can be built. Compounding this issue are option constraints, which delay build dates.

“In some cases, orders with certain options and configurations sat for months before manufacturers indicated the orders could not be built as spec’d,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

One reason for this was that some OEMs continued to accept more orders that they could build. “While not reflected in the average MY-2015 OTD, some models experienced significant delivery delays as the OEMs continued to accept orders that could not be built. The OEMs subsequently canceled and reordered those vehicles for MY-2016,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

However, many van orders were cancelled and rescheduled for the next model-year.

“For example, FCA halted production on minivans and continued to accept orders throughout the downtime. After several months on hold, FCA informed its customers and FMCs that orders received prior to the MY-2015 cutoff had to be reordered for MY-2016,” said Krams of Wheels Inc.

Early build-out dates affected models differently as was the case with the Chevrolet Express and RAM C/V. 
“The Chevrolet Express van ordering was cut-off early, so our clients that placed their orders early received them fairly quickly. Most of these models averaged impressive OTD delivery times of 60 days or less. The Chevrolet Silverado had the best lead-time of any of the full-size pickups,” said Tangney of EMKAY. “The RAM C/V production stopped in the middle of the model-year for a few months, so these OTD results are most likely skewed. Chrysler was unable to produce many of our minivan orders and they had to carry them over to 2016 orders.”

Limited Fleet Allocation

“We had issues with limited fleet allocation. GM cancelled several Chevrolet Express 1500 orders and for all non-cancelled vehicles, they extended the production lead time. Furthermore, FCA held production on their Grand Caravans for six months and then informed FMCs that the orders were going to be rolled over to a 2016 model, which moved the production week to mid-September 2015,” said Gomez of Donlen.

Weather-Related Delays

Weather is always a factor in OTD, with some years being worse than others. “Harsh winters resulting in significant snowfall and freezing across the country affected a number of order-to-delivery times. Flooding in the Midwest also affected main transportation routes,” said Goldman of Merchants.

Similarly, Vliek of EMKAY cited snow and ice in the Northeast and Southeast, which delayed OTD.

Weather in specific regions caused inventory backlogs. “We saw severe weather in 2015 with winter storms and spring flooding in various parts of the U.S., which set back deliveries,” said Kelly of LeasePlan USA.

Ghosh of ARI made a similar observation. “This past winter did not cause as many issues as the prior winter, but it still had some impact on OTD, particularly in those areas of the country most affected by harsh weather,” said Ghosh.

One other notable weather event that significantly impacted OTD during the model year was unexpected flooding at the Baltimore port.
“As a result, vehicles caught in the port flooding were delayed going back into traffic for over a month. Even after the port was up and running again, it took a significant amount of time to clear out the backlog in vehicles, as transport capacity was not sufficient for the number of vehicles at the port. Moreover, some vehicles were a total loss and had to be replaced,” said Ghosh of ARI. “Further compounding the situation, after the port was reopened, a recall was announced for one of the models, which caused further OTD delays for vehicles completed at nearby upfitters. In some instances, the delays caused by the flooding and the recall took an additional two months to reach the delivering dealer from the time the chassis arrived at the port.”

In addition, rail issues further complicated vehicle shipments in and out of Baltimore.

“In January, severe winter weather moved north across the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the CSX rail network and impacted train deliveries through the region by a minimum of 24-48 hours,” said Mark Donahue, manager, fleet analytics for EMKAY. “CSX continued to operate trains, but had restricted crew transportation services from Columbus, Ohio, to Baltimore, Md. The weather impacted rail car loading and unloading, auto ramp haul-away services, and train operations.”

Most of the weather-related delays were in the Southeast and Midwest.

“There was another winter storm in February that hit the Southeast with snow and ice. Overall, the delays were not extensive and operations and rail heads were back up and running in a few days,” said Donahue of EMKAY.

The primary issue in the Midwest was flooding. “The harsh winter and flooding in the Midwest caused delays in affected regions and their transit systems,” said Goldman of Merchants.

Despite the weather delays, the impact to OTD was minimal.

“Although there were a few weather-related delays this year, the overall impact to OTD was minimal,” said Gomez, of Donlen.

This sentiment was echoed by Krams at Wheels. “We did experience some minor delays due to flooding and ramp closures this past winter. Overall the weather did not have a significant impact on OTD this year,” said Krams.

Weather also contributed to washed out rail tracks causing diversions to other tracks, which added days to OTD.

“Another factor we have seen the past couple of years is heavy winter storms followed by spring flooding of major rivers. Flooded tracks and closed rail yards added days, and sometimes even weeks, to some vehicles in transport,” said Kelly of LeasePlan USA.

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