Rival firms cooperate amid driver shortage

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunMore and more rival companies are working together in such areas as jointly transporting products and operating distribution bases.

Their aim is to cut costs by improving transportation efficiency amid an increasingly severe labor shortage in the distribution industry, to which they entrust delivery of their products.

The lessons learned from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which shattered transportation networks, are another big reason for bolstering collaboration.

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. and Astellas Pharma Inc. plan to establish a joint distribution base in Sapporo and cooperate in storing and delivering medicine in Hokkaido from March next year.

Because most medicines come in small tablet form, the warehouses and trucks holding them are rarely filled to capacity. Also, destinations often overlap when medicines are shipped to the same drug wholesalers.

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  • Yomiuri Shimibun file photo

    Relief supplies remain undelivered in Miyagino Ward, Sendai, on March 16, 2011, due to a fuel shortage.

Takeda and Astellas plan to curtail warehouse and transportation costs through cooperation. After assessing the benefits to be gained from working together, they will consider expanding their business partnership to other regions of the country.

Six chemical manufacturers, which have plants in Chiba Prefecture, including Mitsui Chemicals, Inc. and Idemitsu Kosan Co., started jointly transporting resin products used for auto parts to the Tohoku region in autumn last year.

In the food industry, Asahi Breweries, Ltd. and Kirin Brewery Co. started jointly transporting beer and other products in January from their plants in the Kansai region to the Hokuriku region by train.

Behind such cooperation is a growing shortage of delivery trucks and drivers as a result of the rapid spread of online shopping.

Makers are concerned that they will not be able to secure means of supply and could see a decrease in sales — even though there are products available — if distribution companies cannot cope with the current situation.

In addition, there may be a risk of transportation costs rising due to soaring wages for drivers, among other reasons.

Takashi Masuda of Toray Corporate Business Research Inc. said, “This move to jointly transport products will spread in the future.”

The government has started supporting companies in response to the difficulty the distribution industry is facing in securing drivers. Under the revised law concerning the promotion of comprehensivization and improvement of efficiency of distribution operations, which came into effect in October last year, the government offers subsidies or preferential tax treatment to companies if they cooperate in joint deliveries or switch their transportation means from trucks to trains or ships.

However, there can be problems with such cooperation.

A joint distribution company in which about 10 companies had a stake, including Lion Corp. and Unicharm Corp., went into liquidation last July.

The company was established in 1989 as a pioneer in joint transportation, but a person related to the company said, “It actually took a long time to deliver products due to the difficulty of coordinating among the firms.”

There is no prospect that the shortage of drivers and trucks will be solved soon. A member of a food company pointed out that the benefits of cooperation have their limits, saying, “Joint transportation only curbs increases in distribution costs.”

Lessons learned from disarray of 3.11

The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake severed highways and other main roads in many places, preventing daily commodities from being delivered to disaster-hit areas.

In Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, about two-thirds of about 1,800 outlets operated by four major convenience store chains were temporarily closed in the wake of the disaster. Even among reopened stores, many suffered shortages of goods.

Also, pharmaceutical companies found it difficult to transport medicine for injured people and people who required medicine due to chronic illnesses, from the Tokyo metropolitan area to the Tohoku region. This was due to a shortage of trucks, as many such vehicles were needed to transport other daily commodities.

The petroleum industry has been promoting cooperative efforts regarding transportation since the disaster.

Petroleum production and other facilities were damaged in the disaster, and the supply of gasoline and kerosene to affected areas stalled. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, there were long lines of people and cars at gas stations to buy gasoline and kerosene.

The Petroleum Association of Japan, which comprises petroleum wholesalers, has set up bases where officials will gather if a disaster occurs. It created a system in which the association will take requests from disaster-hit areas and ask its member companies to take necessary action.

If cooperation improves in such areas as the joint transportation of products during everyday life, companies’ ability to respond to future disasters may be enhanced through, for example, the more efficient deployment of drivers and better utilization of trucks.Speech

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