Strong – but stay alert
Despite a slight economic slowdown the logistics sector in Austria and Switzerland is in good overall shape. In addition to the promising momentum there are also a number of worrying developments that the sector needs to keep an eye on.
There is a ring of truth to Spedlogswiss director Thomas Schwarzenbach’s words that, overall, the logistics sector is closely linked to foreign trade. This is especially true for generally very export-oriented countries, a category that Austria and Switzerland both fall in.
In terms of the latest economic forecasts the two countries are practically in step. After a strong 2018 there has been a slight slowdown in 2019. Analysts nevertheless expect GDP to grow by 1.2% in Switzerland and 1.7% in Austria this year. The logistics sector must follow developments especially closely, however; a slowdown can quickly become a downturn.
Comparing the logistics situation in the two countries reveals that Austria currently makes a slightly more dynamic impression. The Rail Cargo Group (RCG), the freight transport subsidiary of the Austrian state-owned railway enterprise ÖBB, has developed into an impressive player in the railfreight market in recent years. Right from an early stage RCG banked strongly on the growth potential of railway operations to and from China, and is now busy emphatically advocating the expansion of a broad-gauge option as far as Vienna. If this is realised then the Austrian capital may well become an even more important hub for west – east railfreight traffic.
The private players are also in good shape. Road haulage operator LKW Walter wants to further expand its already strong position in the intermodal transport segment, in which it regularly launches new connections. Logistician Gebrüder Weiss’s overall strategy is also rather promising. The Voralberg-based company is continuously expanding its presence in Southeastern Europe and marking a strong presence in areas where competition is still scarce.
SBB Cargo looking for its roots
The Swiss logistics landscape looks promising, overall. Its advantageous geographical location between south and north, the well-developed national infrastructure and the country’s quite flourishing economy form a fertile breeding ground for logistics success. Nevertheless, there are also matters with some room for improvement.
The last few months saw the takeover of the major player Panalpina by DSV. The loss of the long-standing Swiss company’s traditional independence is likely to continue to hurt Basel as a key logistics location for quite some time.
Switzerland is a railway country – but railfreight operator SBB Cargo is busy analysing a number of crucial issues at the moment. The firm, which has been independent since the start of this year, is currently looking for minority investors. To succeed in this endeavour it needs its consolidated result to break even – as has been the case in most of the recent years. It is no cakewalk, however, as SBB Cargo has also lost some federal subsidies of late.
Next to the large players the Swiss logistics industry is also characterised by numerous small and medium-sized providers, which have frequently established strong positions in niche markets.
A ‘logistics Uber’ from Zurich
The Zurich-based start-up Annanow – it was set up in 2017 – also wants to enter a niche in the medium term. The founders set up a brokerage platform for express couriers, aimed at cycle couriers and taxis. In principle, however, anyone and everyone can become a courier. The business model is similar to Uber’s, except that parcels are transported instead of passengers. According to Annanow its goal is nothing less than establishing “the fastest and cheapest delivery service in Switzerland.”
The concept has met with approval from interested investors. MSS Holding, an entity that is active in the insurance and automotive segments, has invested a single-digit million sum. The start-up wants to invest the funds in expanding its services in Switzerland. Moving into Germany and Austria has been pencilled in for a subsequent phase.
3 questions for Thomas Schwarzenbach
What overall state is the Swiss logistics in- dustry in these days, Mr Schwarzenbach?
The logistics industry is closely linked to Swiss foreign trade, especially in terms of its international acti- vities. Despite uncer- tainties, including the US-China trade war and Brexit, the export sector nevertheless expects the volume of trade to increase this year. GDP is also set to grow in 2019. As a result, our members have reported that their orderbooks are well-filled these days, and that there is strong demand for skilled workers.
What do you see as the industry’s main challenges over the next few years?
We’ve observed a dynamic change in busi- ness processes, involving intelligent infor- mation technology. Our industry’s job profiles are subject to major upheaval at the moment. We’re working on developing new job descriptions, which we’ll introduce in an ordinance in 2022.
Spedlogswiss is feting its 100th anniversary in 2020. What are your plans for celebrations in this context?
We’re producing an anniversary book as well as a film. In it we’ll look back on the origins and history of our association and present readers with the decisive developments over the past decades in a chronological survey. Our annual general meeting in 2020 will naturally also include a special celebration. The highlight of the year will be a big gala evening in autumn, however, where we’ll enjoy our national association Spedlogswiss’s 100th anniversary in style. mw