Ssangyong in the UK - intelligent and efficient finished vehicle distribution

SsangYong’s finished vehicle distribution centre in the UK, in Avonmouth in the west of the country is an object lesson in efficiency, powered by an enthusiastic team of management and staff, and a strong relationship with the its logistics providers as Doug Lincoln, Aftersales Director, SsangYong Motor UK Ltd tells Simon Duval Smith

SsangYong has a proud 65-year history, with an accent on export. It started as a company producing trucks, buses and special purpose vehicles, many of them destined for foreign sales. The OEM has had a presence in the UK since 1993 and has a small but growing market share. With parent company Mahindra's backing and a range of exciting new models, the future looks very bright for the Korean carmaker in Europe, and particularly in the UK.��

SsangYong has chosen finished vehicle experts ECM as its delivery partner and I ask Doug Lincoln if he saw some parallels between SsangYong's size and growth and ECM's, and what was it that attracted SsangYong to them as opposed to the UK arm of a multinational delivery company? He says that ECM’s expertise and use of technology impressed him. "It became quite clear throughout the tender process that ECM understand their business very well. Their structure is quite flat, and they are very close to their customers. This is similar to SsangYong, as the size of our organisation, and the number of people in it, make us a very tight-knit team and while we are growing quite quickly, we are still very close to our everyday operations. The parallel with ECM was quite clear; they have grown their business by being very close to their customers and we felt that we would get the best service from them. This has already proven to be the case. The way the whole 'startup' operation, which commenced on February 1 this year is developing, is already proving to be the foundation of a very good relationship."

E-POD and intelligent tracking

As with many finished vehicle and other logistics sector providers, ECM has adopted various sophisticated vehicle tracking initiatives, through its integrated EDI system and the use of its award-winning Electronic Proof of Delivery App (ePOD) and I wondered how influential were these factors were in SsangYong’s decision to choose them as finished vehicle partners? Lincoln says that the transparency of delivery information is crucial to an efficient and reliable finished vehicle supply chain. “It was very critical for us in terms of the clarity of information we need from our logistics provider - we need to know that a vehicle has left here on time and that it has arrived at our customer (a SsangYong dealer) on time and in perfect condition. Their whole approach to the process is massively forward thinking and they are very keen introduce the latest IT as quickly as possible. Working with our IT partner 20/20, who provide our vehicle management system, ECM are already putting together links that will tell us immediately when a vehicle is delivered, which for us is a huge step forward.” Many vehicle delivery companies have much of this technology, so I ask Lincoln what makes ECM special? "Yes, all of the providers out there can do this and most of them are moving towards E-POD but it seemed to me that ECM and their E-POD system are further ahead than others; it is up and running and it has linked to our systems very rapidly and efficiently."

Doug Lincoln
Connectivity within and without the vehicle

SsangYong is not yet at the forefront of vehicle connectivity but undoubtedly its vehicles will become more and more 'connected'. I ask Lincoln if he could see further integration of the vehicle's 'intelligence' with the outbound supply chain, in such areas as a vehicle being able to report its position, it's battery and fuel level status, tyre pressure monitoring and other connected features. "It is all on our radar, but it is early days for SsangYong. eCall will be the start of our increasing connectivity. All of our vehicles come with an element of telematics and we are already looking at telematics providers for the UK market. Having vehicle status and condition monitoring and to combine this with on board diagnostics and vehicle location services would be a wonderful addition to our offering to the market and we feel there is a great potential for telematics to not only link with logistics but also enhance the customer experience,” he says. Lincoln goes on to say that the telematics initiative is not being directed from SsangYong in Korea and that eCall will be the start of increasingly sophisticated telematics services. "eCall will push them down that [telematics] route, eCall is the starting point and there is a lot more to build on top of that, which we will do locally here in the UK, and we will share that with the factory."

Pooling loads

The SsangYong range are all fairly large vehicles, with several SUVs in the range, and not all transporters can carry as many of these vehicles as they can saloons and hatchbacks. I wondered how has this worked out with ECM - are they offering good economies of scale through being able to carry enough SsangYong’s on each transporter? Lincoln says that having a flexible and intelligent transport partner is key to gaining economies of scale and ensuring the best cost model for transport. "ECM's trucks are very flexible, they have some 11-vehicle transporters and we have carried out a lot of load trials here at Avonmouth, and ECM are pulling other OEMs' vehicles out of the port and are slotting our vehicles into those loads. We would typically get eight full-size SUVs onto a transporter, so we often need to be part of combined loads. We have an excellent load pooling situation as we are in a busy automotive port; ECM are pulling quite a few different brand vehicles from the port." I ask Lincoln who organises the pooling and he says that SsangYong don't get involved in that side; it is part of ECM's full service to the carmaker. "We hand the vehicles to them and they build loads out of those vehicles, mixing with all of their various contracts; they send us details of what they want for each load and we park the vehicles in one of four loading lanes ready for the driver to collect."

Vehicle location and tracking

The SsangYong parking lots at Avonmouth are quite full at present and I ask Lincoln if he and his team ever have problems locating a particular vehicle, as they do not yet have location tracking connectivity in each vehicle. He says that it has not been a problem so far. "I have not had a problem with our SsangYong vehicles, but I did spend some time looking for a Chevrolet on a dock in the past."

ECM provides on-site staff who marshal the loads ready for the truck transport and this works very smoothly, given the fairly small number of SsangYong’s leaving the port, says Lincoln. "If we were doing many times the volume we are, we might have problems locating vehicles, but we will sell about 4,000 vehicles this year; we are hoping to raise this to 10,000 per year, I suppose that might give us more opportunities to lose cars!”

Premium port services and flexible logistics

Avonmouth does not have a dock wide enough to take most car transporter ships and so the vehicles come in to nearby Portbury and are driven over to the Avonmouth facility for processing and loading onto transport trucks, as Lincoln tells me. "The vehicles are driven over by a subcontractor; it is just across the motorway bridge, about a mile in distance. We find the Port of Bristol is very good landlord, we have a good relationship with them, they provide all the stevedoring services and they unload vehicles and marshal them for inspection by our partners SGS very quickly."

All SsangYong’s are shipped by covered transport, on vessels that resemble multi-story car parks, and none are carried on open decks or in containers as Lincoln says. "Containerising cars is never a good solution and we are very happy with our shipping lines' care of the vehicles."

In-house accessories and customisation

I ask Lincoln about customisation and accessory fitting - does he outsource any of it? He says that it is all done in-house in the facility at Avonmouth. "We have a huge vehicle preparation centre here, we do PDIs on-site. We do accessory fit here but this is curtailed slightly at present due to WLTP requirements. Certainly, on the commercial vehicle side [the pickup range] we are full steam ahead, building special editions, fitting hardtops and heavier springs to upgrade the carrying and towing capacity of the pickups. All that is left for the dealer to do is to valet the vehicle and safety-inspect it to ensure nothing has happened to it in transit."

I pose the question that with increasing online sales, vehicles could go direct from Avonmouth to the customer; Lincoln says this is an intriguing prospect, but some safeguards would have to be put in place. "We would need to revise our delivery system of course and also, as a distributor we would not ever go around the dealer network, they are in place to sell our product and we are there to service them the best ways that we can."

Dealing with damage

Given the volume of SsangYong’s coming into the UK, it is no surprise that the OEM chooses to outsource any damage rectification work, as Lincoln says: "We outsource any body repairs, we have an excellent small local bodyshop. Of course, we do carry out small corrections, such as polishing out any minor marks, here but anything greater than this goes out. Also, there are only certain levels of repair that we want to carry out on a new vehicle; we would not retail a vehicle that might have had a major repair. Any vehicle that is transit-damaged is covered by the carrier and we would not sell a significantly damaged vehicle as a retail sale, if it is completely safely repairable it might go into our staff fleet.

Service parts and aftersales

The Avonmouth facility confines its operations to vehicles and has a service and after-sales parts distribution centre in Luton, some 31 miles (50 kilometres) from London as Lincoln says: "Parts come into the Luton facility by road from Breda in the Netherlands where SsangYong European parts warehouse is situated, we get daily delivery from Breda. UPS provide an 'in-night' service to our dealers so that parts are at the dealer ready for fitting when they open in the morning, getting our customers on the road as quickly as possible. If a dealer orders a part by 5.30 pm, they will have it by 7.30 am the next day."

People powering SsangYong’s success

“We brought the PDI operation back in-house some 18 months ago and we now have a very strong team here, people who know the job and the product very well and we have very low staff turnover. We use temporary sub-contract staff when there are peaks in demand, such as the UK vehicle registration periods of March and September. In the vehicle preparation centre we have 17 people, including three supervisors, two fully trained SsangYong Master Tech warranty/used car technicians, seven PDI technicians, one quality control inspector, three yard staff and one stores supervisor. "We also work on used vehicles here, such as ex-staff vehicles, demonstrators and press fleet vehicles.

“With the great people we have on our team working with an efficient and connected finished vehicle logistics chain the future looks very bright for SsangYong in the UK,” he concludes. 

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