Facing new road tolls and rising traffic congestion, Ford is relying more on trains to transport components from western Europe to its assembly plant in Kocaeli, Turkey.
Parts from about 400 suppliers that were previously sent by truck now make a 2,500-kilometer rail journey from Germany to Turkey.
Ford declined to say how much the switch to rail will save the company, but its rail operator estimates that transporting parts by rail is 20 percent less than road shipments.
Currently, Ford has three dedicated trains per week running the route through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. .
"By November we will have a fourth train going per week. That will mean 28 million road kilometers less per year," said Torsten Heinrichs, Ford of Europe's in-bound logistics manager.
"It has been reliable and the transit time is almost the same as with road transport. So far, it's very good."
Ford is using the rail link to ship components such as engines, transmissions and instrument panels for the Ford Transit and Transit Connect commercial vans it builds at its 3-year-old plant in Kocaeli.
Ford was non-committal when asked whether the new logistics route will serve as a model for future transport links.
"There is 'no one-size-fits-all' solution. Every solution depends on the individual business case," said a Ford spokesperson.
But Transfesa, the rail operator Ford hired to transport the parts to Turkey, predicts more automakers and suppliers will switch to rail for parts logistics as European countries introduce truck tolls and as road congestion increases.
"I do not believe that road systems can handle the increase in traffic," said Ulrich Selders, project and operations manager for Transfesa.
He acknowledged significant railroad problems. There still is no fully integrated Europe-wide rail service, so Transfesa has to contract with each national railway for a new locomotive in each country the train passes through.
This slows the transit time considerably. But Selders argues that the time it takes Ford components to reach Turkey from Cologne is roughly the same for rail or road if truck drivers comply with road regulations.
Selders said that the rail service is predictable and reliable in its delivery times -- an important factor for just-in-time or just-in-sequence production.
Ford's three weekly trains of 15 double-carriages each equals 90 truckloads.
Besides cost savings, Ford gains an intangible from rail. The automaker can bolster its environmental credentials by reducing truck engine emissions in environmentally conscious Europe.
The Germany-to-Turkey trains are so-called inbound logistics, moving parts from suppliers to assembly plants. But Ford of Europe already transports about two-thirds of its finished vehicles from factory to dealer by either rail or water.
Ford transports Fiestas and Fusions built in Cologne, Germany, to Italy by rail.
The automaker ships its models made in Germany for the UK by water. Fiestas and Fusions assembled in Cologne are transported down the Rhine River to Vlissingen in the Netherlands. From there, the cars are ferried across the English Channel to Dagenham, near London.
The Vlissingen-Dagenham waterway link is also used to ship Focus and C-Max models produced at Ford's Saarlouis, Germany, plant to the UK.
It takes about 6 days for Ford parts to travel by rail from Germany to Turkey.