Daily Archives: December 23, 2013

Why are Your Inland Shipping Costs in China so High?

As this recent article over on South China Morning Post on Last Mile Transport’s Heavy Load for Truckers implies, it’s probably poor planning on your part.

Specifically, it’s expecting that China carriers can move your product from A to B as fast as North American carriers can get your product from C to D, where the distance from A to B equals the distance from C to D. Although China’s transportation infrastructure is much better than India’s transportation infrastructure, it’s still not on par with the US which gets a 4.14 ranking (out of 5) compared to China’s 3.61 (as per the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index).

Not only is transportation infrastructure insufficient in some parts of mainland China, or overcrowded in many of the big urban areas, but there is also the restriction that trucks can’t be on the highways after midnight. (In the US, the worst you have to deal with is speed limits that drop 10 mph at night. As long as the driver hasn’t reached his daily driving limit, that truck can drive all night long.)

As a result, when you insist on unrealistic schedules, with penalties for late delivery, you end up costing the logistics company needed revenue that it needs to cover the highway and first-tier road fees, as 95% of the country’s highways and 61% of it’s first-tier roads are toll roads (and the company has to use these roads to ensure reasonable delivery times as the free roads are typically dirt roads not suitable for transport trucks). As a result, knowing that it’s going to be late on a significant number of deliveries unless it illegally drives on the highway at night (which will result in harsh fines), and, as a result, get hit with a large number of penalties, the logistics company has to increase its base rates to absorb the expected losses to stay in business.

Thus, if you acknowledged the reality of the transportation situation that Chinese logistics companies have to deal with, accepted slightly longer delivery times, and planned accordingly, you could reduce your mainland China logistics costs — especially if, instead of using one of the almost 10,000 small or mid-sized companies that can’t take advantage of economies of scale and end up absorbing a lot of empty miles, you use one of the few large companies that have enough trucks, and warehouses, to minimize empty miles and use their scale to their advantage. (Plus, shifting more to the bigger carriers will allow them to become financially stable enough to acquire some of the smaller carriers where their footprint is weak, and this should further decrease costs in the future. Furthermore, when the market sees consolidation working, some of the mid-sized carriers will likely merge to offer more cost-effective options. China is big enough that it can support dozens of major carriers, not just a handful like some of the smaller global marketplaces. As a result, even with significant consolidation, there should still be ample competition to keep prices low.)