Even during normal times Maretzke has to pull many strings. Together with ten colleagues from Group Logistics, he is responsible for ensuring that Volkswagen’s European transport network functions smoothly. This means that thousands of suppliers have to get their goods on the road so that they reach one of 26 plants at the right time. Often across several national borders. Maretzke is the link that shares information, solves problems and keeps the system running. “We are the hub between suppliers, haulage companies, brands and plants,” he says.
Since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, nothing has been the same: factories are closing, borders are closed, suppliers are on a forced break. “When the shutdown came, we had many drivers on the road from Morocco, England and Portugal. They had long been on the road and were in danger of being stranded,” reports Maretzke. Answers had to be found quickly: what freight can still be brought to its destination? Which haulage company is capable of temporarily storing goods? Which routes can be used? “As one of the first crossings, the Brenner was closed. Within hours we had to find out whether the drivers could bypass Italy and come to us via the Balkans instead,” Maretzke explains.
“It’s a give and take. We help the transport companies, the transport companies help us. This has worked great in the crisis so far, because we can rely on each other”
For weeks, the logistics specialist has been in contact with transport companies, brands and plants in constant Skype conferences. “It’s a give and take. We help the transport companies, the transport companies help us. This has worked great in the crisis so far, because we can rely on each other,” says Maretzke. In particularly difficult phases, logistics experts from several departments support him so that none of the many threads are lost.
There is one situation in particular that Maretzke remembers: Four truck drivers from Slovenia headed for Salzgitter – but there is only enough unloading capacity for one truck. “Together with the haulage companies and the plant logistics specialists, we changed the program so that the trucks reached the plant at intervals of two hours and could be unloaded immediately.” This saves the haulage companies downtime and the drivers can make their way back. “I used to work in a haulage company myself and I know the worries of the dispatchers,” says Maretzke.
“When we head for Volkswagen, comparable regulations on infection protection apply at all locations. This is not a given and makes life easier for us as a freight company.”
Jörg Witt, Managing Director of the logistics company Duvenbeck, also praises the exchange of information: “We always knew what Volkswagen was up to and were able to adapt to it.” This applies to the freight volume – but also to security requirements for urgent deliveries. “When we head for Volkswagen, comparable regulations on infection protection apply at all locations. This is not a given and makes life easier for us as a freight company.”
The practical hygiene regulations at Volkswagen are also a good basis for the new start. “These regulations have emerged from close, joint coordination and are also the basis for our Group-wide hygiene guidelines.” As an example, Witt mentions the equipment of the driving personnel with masks, gloves and disinfectants. In recent weeks, Duvenbeck has used many vehicles in other sectors. These capacities can now be flexibly returned to the core business of the automotive industry.
“If everything goes according to plan, we’ll increase the freight volume from week to week.”
“The cooperation was intensive – and that was important for us,” says Cristina Corna, Managing Director Arcese Germany, about the difficult first weeks of the crisis. In daily updates, the employees of the transport company learnt what Volkswagen was planning. Arcese had a particular problem when many drivers saw the dramatic pictures from Italy – and no longer wanted to head for the country. “Our capacities were running low.” Volkswagen assisted by giving Arcese delivery priority for unloading. “This way we could use the trucks quickly for the next assignment.”
Corna’s team is also in close contact with Volkswagen for the restart. “If everything goes according to plan, we’ll increase the freight volume from week to week.” Disinfectants and masks are available to protect against infection.
Last week, Volkswagen’s first vehicle plant in Germany went back into operation in Zwickau – slowly and gradually. Further locations will follow this week, including the main plant in Wolfsburg. Once again, logisticians and transport companies are facing challenges together: Many companies are only allowed to work to a limited extent, others are affected by curfews. It is also difficult to plan the demand of the plants – nevertheless the appropriate number of drivers must be available. “We inform the haulage companies as early and as well as possible so that they can get their people back at the right time,” says Maretzke. Whereas in March the focus was on decelerating quickly, detailed planning is now required. The passionate logistics expert has no illusions that the next few weeks could become more relaxing. Maretzke: “The restart will be at least as demanding as the shutdown. But we’ll manage it.”