Motor Transport: A Year in Review

The industry has faced a challenging 2012 and since its launch in March, has been here to cover the ups and the downs. Here is a month by month guide to the big stories of 2012.

January saw B2C parcel operators report record Christmas volumes as a result of the biggest online Christmas the UK had ever seen. Hermes delivered 15 million items in its 2011 Christmas peak, while Yodel delivered 20 million and City Link reported an 8% increase. Just days later Yodel revealed plans behind the streamlining of its service centre network.

In February Autologic made its first distressed purchase of the year – Sensible Transport. It would be an eventful year for Autologic…  And for the automotive logistics industry as a whole, with several major contracts changing hands.

Nightfreight was bought by DX Group in March – creating a combined business turning over £290m a year - in an eventful month for acquisition activity.  The biggest acquisition of the year was announced a week later after UPS made an offer for TNT Express. However the contracted saga has been stuck in a tangle of European bureaucracy for nine months.

More acquisition activity followed in April when Culina Group acquired Cert Octavian – while operators were forced into emergency planning  for a potential shortage of fuel as a result of the tanker drivers’ strike.

Events really upped their pace in May with creditors at airfreight haulier Circle Express approving a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) – while Palletline Logistics (Midlands) also got the go-ahead for a CVA. Continuing the 'buy or go bust' trend was Potter Group Logistics acquiring House of James.  The beginning of May would see Autologic make its second distressed purchase of the year – Spirit Motortransport – but days later it would be subject to a bid itself, from a surprising source: Stobart Group.

June kicked off with changes to the supermarket supply chain with Wincanton thwarting rivals to  a five year contract with Asda in the north-west. But Wincanton lost its contract with the Co-op to run its Bristol DC to rival Norbert Dentressangle. Wincanton was the word in June though as a week later chief executive Eric Born promised the operator was “bang on track” with its financial performance.

July was quiet – with the exception of the heated debates over the Olympic Route Network in London ahead of the Games – but August saw the Games take place without major disruption.

September saw the collapse of one of the biggest names in Irish haulage – Target Express - while Turners [Soham] made two acquisitions: container haulier Walkers Transport Services and Browns Chilled Distribution. Meanwhile Yodel announced that  chief executive Jonathan Smith would step down at the end of the year.

A debate over the ‘rate squeeze’ in the pallet sector continued in October – with undercutting described as the network’s “Achilles’ heel’. APC Overnight revealed it would not relocate to a new national hub until next year just before the Christmas peak.

ND’s £100m, five-year contract with failed retailer Comet hit the headlines in November. It had only replaced Wincanton in April as the electrical retailer's logistics partner – which subsequently closed its doors to customers in December. November would see City Link promise to win £30m of new business next year.

Finally, as Christmas approached, the four month long industrial action involving Unite, Tesco and Eddie Stobart finally ended, with everyone breathing a collective sigh of relief.

All in all, 2012 proved to be a lot tougher than everyone expected at the start of the year.