DOSSIER. Road freight transport in the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region has shrunk by 2.8% in 5 years. An erosion that was contained thanks to the healthy situation of internal traffic flows.
Our "Tour de France of road freight transport" focuses today on the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region, following on from our stopovers in Hauts-de-France, Grand Est and Bourgogne Franche-Comté. In our first article, we looked at the economic and logistical profile of the region. Now let's look at the situation of road freight transport.
A recovery that began in 2016
In 2018, the regional flow of road freight transport under the French flag totaled 30.8 billion tonne-kilometers, which is an increase of 6.3% compared to 2017. “Inflows account for 32% of traffic and are up by 2%. Outflows are at an equivalent level, and remain stable compared to the previous year. The internal exchanges in the region continue to grow and this was at an annual rate of 18%, following that of 15% in 2017 ", details INSEE in the 2018 economic report for the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region.
* in millions of tonne-kilometers transported - Source: SDES, Road Freight Transport Survey
The year 2018 therefore confirmed the recovery started in 2016 and as early as 2015 for internal flows, over 5 years the overall traffic shows an increase of 2.8%. Inbound and outbound flows, despite the recovery from 2016, have not returned to their 2014 levels. However, the activity is saved by internal flows, which have grown 34% over 5 years, and which now generate the largest part of the traffic representing 37% of the region's total, up from 2014's figure of 28.6%.
“We have to be clear: our geographical position, because of its many advantages, also exposes us to international competition and cabotage. Vulnerability is lower on an intra-regional scale. But there are also positive factors that come into play to explain the rise in this segment. Firstly, many projects have been implemented in recent years in the region. Secondly, it is encouraging to see that certain manufacturers, in particular those who handle dangerous materials, are returning to French carriers following bad experiences, for example due to a poor understanding of safety guidelines, which are extremely important for chemicals and petrochemistry”, points out Jean-Christophe Gautheron, general secretary of the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes OTRE.
Jean-Christian Vialelles, regional delegate of TLF Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, also sees in this trend a link to the strength of the logistics sector: the warehouses attract a massive flow of traffic which is then redistributed locally. And the explosion of e-commerce, in B to C but also increasingly in B to B, further accentuates the movement.
Impact of social movements
The figures for 2019 are not yet known, but the trend was rather favorable ... until the social movements in December. "The regional economy is doing quite well, at least in Rhône-Alpes, particularly due to an industrial sector which has been on the rise for 18 months", notes Jean-Christophe Gautheron. The Banque de France, in its business survey for the month of November, also noted "a buoyant activity" for road transport," following on from the previous month, thanks to robust demand". It also noted that professional forecasts remained "favorable for the next few weeks, whether in terms of activity or demand".
But two warning signs have come on, reports the Banque de France: the beginning of a price depreciation, and social movements. “This is a disaster. It has taken about 15 years to recover from the damage caused by previous strikes and we are once again destroying our maritime activities,” protested Christian Vialelles.
A third warning sign has come on: the economic uncertainties around the coronavirus outbreak.
6,700 road freight transport establishments
According to the 2018 regional report of the OPTL (Prospective Observatory of professions and qualifications in Transport and Logistics), the road freight transport sector in 2017 had around 6,700 establishments in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes, of which 3,000 employed staff and 3,700 were freelancers. In the first category, 63% of establishments had between 1 and 9 employees as of December 31st, 2017, 30% between 10 and 49 employees and 7% more than 50 employees.
The region is home to some of the biggest names in French road transport. The names that spring to mind are XPO, ex Norbert Dentressangle, but also those of dynamic groups such as Bert, Dimotrans, Dupessey, Jacky Perrenot, Pedretti, Fatton, etc. In Auvergne, we can mention for example Transports Combronde in Thiers, Transports Lhéritier or Multi-Transports near Puy-en-Velay (630 employees, and also bought Transports Archer, Chambon and Sanialin in October 2019).
As everywhere else, this sector is facing recruitment difficulties. It is also feeling the noose of environmental constraints tightening around it, for example with the implementation of coercive measures such as the setting up of low-emission zones in Lyon from January 1st 2020. "It is regrettable that the metropolises act in a very individual way and some without consultation", noted Jean-Christian Vialelles.
There is some good news however: the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region is joining forces with the carriers to promote energy transition, in particular to NGV. "There are funds that are not necessarily available elsewhere," said Jean-Christophe Gautheron. A call for projects is in progress up until October 30th, 2020 to help companies wishing to acquire NGV vehicles as part of a project to create a new NGV/ Biogas station.