Transportation & Logistics Analysis

Grand Est : The road haulage companies resist in a difficult economic situation

October 23 2019

Dossier - Over the last 5 years the road freight transport in the Grand Est has decreased by 8.2% in terms of Freight Tonne Kilometres despite the good performance of internal traffic flow. The region remains however the seat of some splendid road haulage companies, and the echoes concerning the economic situation for 2019 are quite encouraging.

Our road freight Tour de France continues its route into the Grand Est. After the analysis of the general economy and the logistical situation, it is now time to look at RFT itself.

The last five years could not be described as having been a walk in the park. Globally the traffic expressed in Freight Tonne Kilometres is down by 8.2%. The fall is particularly significant for inward and outward-bound traffic, whereas the intra-regional traffic shows a healthy momentum. As is pointed out by René Ciolek, the general secretary for the Meuse and Moselle branches of the FNTR (National Federation for Road Transport), “Many carriers have also, as in other regions, refocused their efforts on local and regional traffic.” The Grand Est Regional Observatory of Transport and Logistics (ORT&L) stated that “The average distance travelled is 54 km for internal traffic, 272 km for inbound traffic and 297 km for outbound traffic.”


*in millions of Freight Tonne Kilometres transported - Source: SDES, Road Freight Transport survey

Can the Grand Est manage to halt the overall decline that has been observed over the last 5 years? It is too early to be able to draw any definitive conclusions, but the regional economic surveys carried out by The Bank of France have shown that despite this there was rather dynamic transport activity over the summer. In July the demand was noticeably “strong due to the transport of beverages during the heat wave”. The Grand Est is home to well-known brands of bottled mineral water such as Vittel or Contrex. This global recovery was confirmed during August.

A change in the demand for transport

The Grand Est is a region that is highly industrialised and has suffered from the difficulties in certain sectors brought on by economic changes over the last two decades. Eric Mignon, the regional delegate for the Lorraine section of the FNTR points out that, “Many of the small subcontractors in the automobile sector have disappeared, brought down by the wave of implantation of European constructors in Eastern Europe.” Other sectors of activity that were traditionally strong in the region, such as the steel or paper industries, have also greatly suffered and have shrunk in size.

In a sector such as the timber industry which has been buoyant thanks to the construction business, a change in the demand has been observed: “small sawmills have more or less disappeared in favour of much larger production units. Volumes are growing but the carrier’s client base has changed.”, is the conclusion drawn by Eric Mignon.

Luckily, the region has, however, seen the arrival of new players, “notably SMEs involved in metallurgy and mechanical parts sectors”, the regional delegate points out. However, this is not enough to offset the industrial downturn. Unlike its neighbour, the Hauts-de-France, which was able to compensate the industrial decline by its implication in the mass-market retailing sector, the Grand Est has had few inroads in this area. The opening of an Amazon logistics platform in northern Lorraine marks a turning point that the industry professionals hope to be a promising one.

Success stories

These difficulties should be put into perspective though. In 2018, the number of road freight transport businesses in the Grand Est was 2,995 compared to 2017’s figure of 3,015, according to data from the ORT&L. In addition to this there are 563 freight forwarders of which 444 also act as freight transporters. Looking at the detailed picture we can see that 37% of RFT companies are based in Lorraine, 32% in Alsace and 30.5% in Champagne-Ardenne. The region includes, in particular, some of the major players such as Mauffrey or Transalliance, but also some splendid SMEs such as MGE, Altrans, les Transports Vigneron to mention but a few… “Overall, the number of businesses is diminishing but the number of vehicles is on the rise. The businesses that are involved in growth sectors have continued to develop, some of which have done so through external expansion operations.” Eric Mignon is pleased to announce.

Transports Kleyling, which is based in the Haut-Rhin department, is a great example of resistance in a delicate situation. “We have been experiencing over the last 3 years a progression of our volume of business and sales.”, says Thierry Leidemer the CEO of the company. The company, which is part of the Astre group on which it relies heavily for its national coverage, is fully committed to the quality of service as a means to differentiate itself, both in its relations with customers but also in terms of human resources. “Despite a context of labour shortages, we have not encountered too many difficulties in this area. We have made considerable efforts to retain our workforce. As an example, we have put into place a system of incentives which allow drivers to profit from the results achieved through our fuel economy programme. In addition to this we regularly renew our material and our drivers are able to have their own tractor and semi-trailer set”, points out the CEO.

In certain cases, customers have shown an interest in the aspect “Made in France”, and in the efforts made in the area of sustainable development. These efforts have also been rewarded in the framework of the EVE programme (Voluntary Commitment for the Environment) put in to place by the ADEME (French Environment & Energy Management Agency). Thanks to the loyalty and commitment from all their personnel, travelling and sedentary, this Alsatian SME, which signed the CO2 charter in 2011 and holder of the label Objectif CO2 since December 2016, was awarded the trophy for the Best Environmental Performance this September.

“Even on the German market, we have certainly lost some ground due to a competitivity gap compared to the foreign competition, but there still remains a customer base for our level of quality of service and our commitment. The only downside that I can see in this fascinating job that is so lacking in monotony, is that we do not really receive a remuneration in line with the energy and the means that we employ!”, is the conclusion made by Thierry Leidemer.

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Graduated from the Superior School of Journalism in Lille, Anne spent most of her career in the international trade and logistics press, before joining Upply.
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