Major logistics companies could begin assembling components and modules as part of the widespread outsourcing trend in the auto industry.
'We won't become involved in actual production, but our responsibilities may reach as far as pre-assembling certain components,' said Fausto Forti, Turin-based manager for logistics in southern Europe at Dutch delivery giant TNT.
'The overall trend is to outsource,' he said. 'First we only did transportation, then warehousing. Now we are involved in packing and pre-selecting certain parts and components in kit form.
'The next step could be pre-assembly of subsystems. But carmakers won't allow us the responsibility for complete assembly operations at the line,' Forti said.
In some places, allowing logistics providers to carry out assembly work might clash with union regulations.
'It has not been an issue yet, but we expect assembly workers' labor unions to object,' said Antonio Riba, TNT's board member for corporate logistics, based at Seat's Martorell plant near Barcelona, Spain.
TNT operates a warehouse just 50 meters from Martorell, employing 400 staff.
Riba also said that logistics firms would increasingly help carmakers streamline production processes.
'For example, we help Seat with such things as conveyor routing,' he said. 'With Fiat we study the efficiency of the parts flow, speed of the assembly line and model mix.'
TNT also runs spare parts warehousing and looks after the global supply of complete knockdown components for Fiat. Of TNT's total 1998 logistics revenues, 62 percent came from automotive activities.
TNT has helped Fiat by studying in-bound supply flows, reducing the amount of incoming trucks and the number of containers, docks and warehouses in use. 'Carmakers want to outsource all logistics activities,' Forti said.
Outside Italy and Spain, TNT runs warehouses in France, Germany and Poland. The company has been rationalizing its warehouses - particularly those needed for Fiat business. At Micro Compact Car in Hambach, France, TNT rents space for the pan-European distribution of parts and accessories for the Smart car.
TNT is part of TPG (TNT Post Group) and is controlled by Dutch post and telecommunications group Koninklijke PTT Nederland NV.