Many of us take a number of things in life for granted: we flip a switch, and the lights go on; we take the trash to the street, and it’s picked up; we turn on the faucet and water flows. Fleet managers order a specific type of vehicle, and it eventually arrives at a delivering dealer, nearly always precisely as it was ordered.
However, the order-to-delivery process is a complex, detailed one. A fleet orders a service van from its FMC with a ladder rack, rack-and-bin upfit and the company graphics wrap. For the most part, in a relative few weeks or months, the van arrives, as ordered, at the delivering dealer.
The vehicle is ordered, spec’d, upfitted and graphics are added. It’s produced at the factory, the upfit and any accessories are installed, then it enters the transportation network, via shipping, rail or truck.
Defining Logistics & Supply Chain
Wallenius Wilhelmsen (WALWIL), leaders in fleet vehicle factory-dealer delivery, can best be understood by defining what the company does, and then how they do it as it pertains to the fleet industry.
The term “logistics” originated in the military, and a number of non-military definitions can apply. Here’s a simple one: “…logistics is the management of the flow of things between the point of origin and the point of consumption, to meet the requirements of customers…” (Wikipedia).
That’s a good, succinct description of what WALWIL does: managing the flow of fleet vehicle orders from the point of origin (the assembly plant) to the point of consumption (the delivering dealer).
WALWIL handles this complex process as smoothly as possible.
“We begin at order placement, managing the flow of fleet vehicles right to the delivering dealer,” says Ralf Wessel, WALWIL’s manager of fleet services.
What about “supply chain” and its meaning?
Again, Wikipedia: “In commerce, supply chain refers to the network of organizations, people, activities, information and resources involved in delivering a product … to a consumer.”
This process involves organizing people, materials, activities and information that define the order-to-delivery process. Thus, the supply chain is organizing the network required to make and deliver a product; logistics is how that product flows from the product’s origin to the end user.
Logistics and supply chain processes don’t occur in isolation; they often act concurrently.
“The overall upfit process is a good example,” says Wessel. “Both logistics — the movement of the order through the assembly process, to subsequently be captured in the transportation network — overlaps the supply chain elements of procurement and acquisition of the parts necessary to complete the upfit when the vehicle arrives.”
Services Offered Globally
One of the most extensive menus of these services is provided globally by Oslo, Norway-based WALWIL. From the plant to detailed inspections, to installation of upfits and accessories, to transportation via ship, rail or truck, WALWIL provides one-stop shopping for fleets, FMCs and OEMs worldwide.
Wessel was kind enough to spend some time with Automotive Fleet to explain how the company addresses this complex process.
First Step: The Factory
“WALWIL services begin right at the factory,” Wessel explains, “as vehicles come off the assembly line.”
The numbers illustrate the scope of WALWIL’s operations:
- More than 5.5 million vehicles processed annually.
- 2.2 million delivered each year.
- To 1,717 dealers U.S. dealers.
- Via 32 facilities, 14 port locations, 14 plant based vehicle processing centers (VPCs).
- 4,000 employees globally.
Orders from FMCs to OEMs serviced by WALWIL begin the process.
“We’re linked to both the FMC and OEM ordering systems and see what we’ll need to do,” Wessel explains. “Beginning with vehicles requiring upfits and accessory installation.”
For example, with 14 plant-based vehicle processing centers, WALWIL will first order (or remove from inventory) the necessary parts (custom upfits, graphics wraps, accessories such as GPS hardware, backup cams, etc.) from vendors.
“We work with most upfitters, and order accessories from the OEMs on a timely basis,” says Wessel. “We need to make certain that the parts are available when the vehicle comes off the line.”
Timing, then, is critical. Some parts are inventoried, others must be ordered and custom built, Wessel explains, “Smaller parts — backup cams, GPS hardware and hookups, etc. — are reasonably inventoried.” Others, such as major upfits – service van interiors, bed caps, and graphics – are ordered upon WALWIL’s receipt of the fleet order.
This timely process requires an extensive communications network.
“We’re online with most OEMs and FMCs,” Wessel says. “We have to be. Our customers expect us to deliver completed orders, including upfits, within a normal order-to-delivery time frame.” The orders include import vehicles, produced in Europe, which can be delivered to the U.S. in 2-3 weeks if parts are readily available.”
Ryan McCausland, head of WALWIL’s automotive operation, emphasizes that while the company enjoys a wide, global footprint, it will be expanding beyond current locations.
“Our existing reach is certainly global, however there are markets we will be looking to serve going forward,” says McCausland.
Handling the Upfit Process
So far, we se that WALWIL brings both logistics and supply chain to bear; the parts needed have been ordered (or are in inventory), and the vehicle has been brought to the WALWIL Vehicle Processing Center (VPC).
“Our upfit technicians take the next steps,” Wessel says. “The vehicle has arrived at our VPC, the parts either in inventory or delivered from the vendor, and the upfit is completed.”
Throughout this process, WALWIL keeps FMCs, OEMs and the fleet official informed via Electronic Data Integration (EDI).
“We’re online with suppliers, so that our customers know where the vehicle is each step in the process,” explains Wessel, “Even dealers have access to information so they can properly prepare to receive the vehicle, handle paperwork and deliver a finished product the fleet.”
A partial list of upfits and accessories WALWIL installs at the VPC is substantial:
- “Toppers” (pickup bed caps)
- Graphics wraps
- Ladder racks
- Spray-in bed liners
- Dual facing cameras
- Tommy Gates
- Spray rigs
- Backup alarms
- Bed slides
- Decked drawer package
- Sumo springs
- CatStrap (prevents catalytic converter theft)
- Dividers/delivery cages/bulkheads
Not all vehicles today are internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered. For the many fleets transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs), WALWIL’s VPCs now also handle battery charging, cooling liquid filling and monitoring charging levels.
“We aren’t standing still regarding the types of vehicles our customers need,” says Wessel. “EVs are becoming more popular as fleet vehicles every day, and we handle the unique needs of electrification.”
Importantly, WALWIL VPCs do more than install upfits and accessories.
“In essence, we can act as an extension of the OEM, via our OEM plant locations, in that we conduct a full inspection of each vehicle,” says Wessel.
Port locations can cater to as many as a dozen different OEMs. This includes body flaws (a misaligned fender or hood, for example) as well as the minor body damage vehicles often suffer in production and transport.
“We do minor body work, paint, and fit and finish whenever necessary, before the upfit is even started,” Wessel further explains.
The goal is to bring a customer-ready vehicle to the dealer, on time.
One-Stop-Shopping Provides Benefits
The “one stop shopping” aspect of WALWILs logistics/supply chain services — outsourcing the individual steps in the order-to-delivery process to one supplier — provides valuable benefits.
Rather than installing some accessories at the assembly plant, others at port, and still others at vendors local to the dealer (such as large upfits for trucks and vans), WALWIL does it all within a single, professional network.
“It’s much like a company outsourcing fleet services such as maintenance and fuel to an FMC,” says Wessel. “Rather than larger staff and greater internal expense, we’re experts at all aspects of getting fleet orders from the plant to the dealer.”
WALWIL can help cut costs and order-to-delivery times, he adds.
The company also offers customers vehicle storage.
“We can offer OEMs storage for volumes of vehicles while they await a new model-year launch or a number of specific fleet vehicles of a particular type, spec and color, then ship them when the orders come in,” explains Wessel.
Solutions to Supply Chain Issues
Much has been said and written recently about supply chain delays and problems. Beginning with the Covid pandemic, they primarily affect shipping over the ocean, and major chip shortages.
While improvement has been seen this year, some experts say there’s no end in sight. Ships by the dozen anchored in ports, such Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, have prompted suppliers to use alternative ports in Houston, Seattle and Charleston, South Carolina, causing backups there as well.
Chip shortages continue to plague OEMs, with dealers bearing the brunt of the impact as lot inventories become thin or vehicles are sold without accessories such as GPS, telematics, and anything chip related.
“We’re feeling the impact like everyone is,” admits Wessel. “But our global reach, deep menu of services and outstanding network of suppliers enable us to provide excellent solutions to our customers” — solutions that include sage advice.
“We strongly encourage our customers to get involved as early as possible in the process,” says Wessel, “and particularly to make certain that critical upfit parts/assemblies and accessories are delivered on time to our VPCs, so that the completed unit can be trucked, taken to port and loaded on our ship, or to the rail yard for train transport.”
Flexibility is another key advantage WALWIL provides, particularly considering supply chain challenges.
“Because our logistics and transportation network can move assets by rail, sea or ground,” Wessel explains, “We have the flexibility to choose the most efficient and time-saving means to get fleet vehicles to our customers’ dealers.”
For orders produced in OEM plants overseas, shipping is required.
“We serve ports on both East and West Coasts of the U.S., as well as gulf ports in Texas, and we have the ability to ship to the location closest to the customer or, when the aforementioned backups occur, ports that are open and aren’t experiencing delays,” Wessel comments.
WALWIL has set up task forces to review logistics and supply chain issues, incorporating additional staff at ports to facilitate logistics activity: tracking “spacing” at ports to alleviate vessel bunching and resultant delays and even coordinating with customers for enhanced pickup and transport of product.
This attention to the details enables WALWIL to best address supply chain issues that have plagued the world’s economy in the last two years.
Not Just Vehicles, But Also Material Handling & Non-Vehicular Equipment
The FMCs services encompass more than companies and public sector organizations whose fleets consist only of vehicles.
Many fleets, such as construction companies, public utilities, manufacturers that use material handling equipment in warehouses, use several kinds of non-vehicular equipment.
“Our programs are also used for the movement of non-vehicular equipment as well,” says Wessel.
In addition to vehicles, WALWIL handles tractors, material handling equipment, construction equipment, among other types of assets.
For these fleets, which can depend on WALWIL for nearly any type of ‘fleet’ asset, the company is a one-stop vendor.
"Take a Back Seat to No One" in Serving Customers
Ultimately, what sets WALWIL apart in the logistics and supply chain industry are the people who serve customers.
“We take a back seat to no one in this business as to the training, experience, and customer-focus of our people,” says Wessel proudly. “They are what makes what we do work.”
People such as Ralf Wessel, who boasts a 17-year career in the fleet industry.
“I’ve been a fleet manager; I know what works and what doesn’t,” he says.
With a former fleet manager leading the WALWIL fleet operation, the company can appreciate the process from both sides, as a customer as well as a supplier.
While the order-to-delivery process may seem relatively simple to some fleet managers, FMCs and even OEMs, it is a complex, detailed process. These fleet market players can be “‘siloed” in approach, focused on each of their specific roles in getting vehicles produced, moved and delivered.
WALWIL doesn’t have that luxury. However, the company has built an order-to-delivery product, that despite its complexity, is a smooth, well-run service is in the background, unseen by customers.
Like a referee in a prize fight or an umpire in a baseball game, WALWIL operates behind the action, and that’s the way Ralf Wessel likes it.