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A view of the sea to boot

“Logistics is easy. You simply have to make sure that the right product is available at the right time and at the right place,” Manfred de Vries resolutely declares. For a short time now, the man with the blond hair and the 6-foot, 6-inch frame has been ruling over an additional area that is big enough to accommodate nearly 20 soccer fields. The expansion of the Emden autoport is a huge project: an additional 200,000 square meters and 10,000 more parking places. Unlike soccer, a game that Germans like to describe as shooting something round into something square, the objective here is to place thousands and thousands of vehicles in their very own, predetermined parking place.

“Logistics is easy. You simply have to make sure that the right product is available at the right time and at the right place.”

Manfred de Vries

The success story of the Emden port, a facility that becomes more international by the day, began 53 years ago with the loading of Volkswagen Beetles for their journey to the United States. One-quarter of Volkswagen vehicles heading abroad pass through Emden. De Vries directs Autoport Emden GmbH and, thus, the nearly 70,000 parking places that, much like the tide, experience constant change. Vehicles from all corners of the world are continuously unloaded and parked at predetermined sites before they begin the journey to their final destination on the back of a truck or train. Vehicles bound for all corners of the world are loaded on ships as well – most of them are made by the Volkswagen Group’s brands, but vehicles produced by other companies are included, too.

Port of Emden: job engine

The history of the Port of Emden is one unending success story. Just like the VW Beetle that simply ran and ran and ran, the port continues to grow and grow and grow because demand for vehicles made by the Volkswagen Group continues to climb. From 2009 to 2017, the volume of the 10 Group brands that were transshipped at Emden jumped a full 67 percent.

An eye on two million

The huge parking lot with a view of the sea broke the one million barrier 10 years ago. For 2017, de Vries expects the total number of transshipped vehicles will not quite reach 1.5 million. But his logistics team and he already have their eyes firmly fixed on the two million barrier. “You need goals,” says the friendly native of the East Frisian Islands with the broad smile.

To ensure that the port works smoothly and reliably, it needs logistical connections to road and water transport. This will require the rapid expansion of the autobahn and the deepening of the Ems River, de Vries says. Redundancy is the key to a stable system, he adds.

Made in Emden: The flagship Arteon

Emden is a logistics and production center. Cars have been produced here for more than 50 years. In addition to the bread-and-butter Passat, the city where around 37,000 people work for Volkswagen will now also produce the Arteon, the new flagship of the VW brand. This may not exactly be something that is up de Vries’ alley. But logistics plays a key role in every important area of the company.

Thomas Zernechel, the Head of Group Logistics who oversees de Vries’ operation, describes the job this way: “In the end, we are responsible for all logistics activities that supply our production operation in 120 locations and deliver assembled vehicles to our customers around the world.” In this intricate neural system, northern European ports serve as central hubs for material and vehicle transport.

Global management: a Herculean task

The job of managing this system and ensuring that everything arrives in time at the location that ordered it is truly a Herculean task. “We are connected to procurement, production, sales as well as a huge number of external partners,” Zernechel says.

Emden, the third-largest port in Europe, is the maritime hub for Volkswagen. More than 900 ships journey to the Port of Emden year in and year out. On a daily basis, this amounts to three to four ships that have to navigate the tide-driven waters of the Ems. A total of 30,000 trucks travel to the port on Autobahn 31, or the “Frisian skewer,” as the freeway is nicknamed. In addition, about 170,000 train cars cross the aging, one-track railroad drawbridge. “Altogether, we handle around 12,000 vehicles with the help of ship, rail and truck carriers each workday,” de Vries says in describing the flow of material at the port located at the mouth of the Ems.