The auto industry has been remarkably inconsistent in its attempts to modernize logistics processes in Europe.
While deliveries of just-in-time parts have revolutionized the pre-production process, manufacturers still haven't figured out an efficient, cheap and customer-friendly way of distributing, storing and selling cars.
Now automakers such as Renault SA have launched programs to address these inefficiencies. Renault hopes to cut delivery times from eight weeks to two weeks by the end of next year.
The system will save $160 million annually, and will finally do away with the industrywide practice of pushing cars on to dealers before they have been sold.
This practice has earned the auto industry a bad name throughout Europe. It depresses residual values. It encourages salespeople to offer wildly differing deals to different customers, depending on the date, the model and the automaker's rebate.
Renault is not alone. Ford Motor Co. hopes to overhaul its logistics systems by uniting all its European brands, while General Motors is pushing ahead with a new distribution program.
Indeed, all European manufacturers are considering radical new ideas to improve post-production logistics.
The Internet is forcing the industry to reassess the entire post-production operation. As a result, dealers are seeing the benefits of a more consistent, customer-friendly approach governed by demand rather than supply.
Logistics companies are offering manufacturers a far more practical and flexible service that works in tandem with other parts of the production process.
The links between dealer and factory are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so customers can expect to get the exact car they desire without having to wait months for it.
All these improvements are helping the auto industry drag itself into the customer-driven 21st century. But the key to the successful overhaul of vehicle distribution lies inside the factory.
No matter how excellent a manufacturer's relationship with its logistics company; no matter how much dealers are trained to offer professional service to customers; and no matter how adaptable the storage and inventory systems, the auto industry will achieve practically nothing unless production levels are flexible enough to mirror demand.
Vehicle distribution has been ignored by the industry for many years. Why? Because manufacturers reckoned it was cheaper to keep the factories buzzing.
The factories kept pushing cars into dealerships because it was easier than cutting output, laying off workers and facing the consequences. Finally, it seems, that attitude is changing. The auto industry is focusing on post-production logistics like never before.