Efficiency through innovation.
Transport Magazine

Efficiency through innovation.

Car transport: Christian Lippeck drives an Actros with MirrorCam for Lagermax.

The first ever Actros built as an open car transporter has hit the road for Lagermax. With the flagship from Mercedes-Benz Trucks and technologically advanced superstructures, this Austrian company has positioned itself as the leader in innovation in a fiercely competitive industry.

It would be hard to find an expert who knows more about car transportation than Franz Birgman. The 58-year-old learnt everything about this business from the ground up. After his vocational training and a first job in mechanical engineering, Birgmann made the switch to a truck driver’s cab, starting his career with Lagermax Autotransport GmbH in Strasswalchen, in Austria’s Salzburg region. From there he was recruited into the management of the company fleet, and 15 years ago he rose to the position of fleet manager.

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branches in twelve countries around Europe.

Today this Salzburg-born and bred man with a relaxed demeanour oversees a fleet of 530 car transporters and also keeps an eye on the many independent freight contractors who move vehicles all around Europe on behalf of Lagermax. Calm though he may be, during our interview for “Transport” Birgmann made no bones about the fact that few segments in the road freight business are more stressful than transporting cars. All the players are under extreme competitive pressure, the legal framework varies from country to country despite being part of the EU, and customers are becoming increasingly demanding.

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Faced with this situation, transport companies have a choice between two strategic options, as Birgmann explains: “Some will always do everything more cheaply: cheaper drivers, cheaper equipment. Others rely on technological solutions that will boost productivity and quality, as well as secure earnings. Here at Lagermax we decided to go for the second option, and the Actros is an integral part of this strategy, as are our customised superstructures.”

In October 2019, Lagermax took possession of the first Actros for use as a car transporter. The driver Christian Lippeck has been in this truck ever since, which is equipped with MirrorCam and all the other innovations that come with the flagship of Mercedes-Benz Trucks. Lippeck is a technology enthusiast. In his spare time he builds custom bikes at home. “The first car transporter with MirrorCam – now that’s a real eye-catcher! What’s more, in many situations the digital rear-view mirror with its indicators in the display gives me better support than a conventional mirror system.”

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A real eye-catcher: Christian Lippeck is proud of his Actros with MirrorCam.

“The first car transporter equipped with MirrorCam – it’s a real looker!”

Christian Lippeck, driver at Lagermax
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Fully connected, intuitive operation: Modern work behind the steering wheel with the new Multimedia Cockpit.

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Lippeck is also quite taken with the Multimedia Cockpit: “It is very clear and modern in its layout. Everything works just the way I am used to with my smartphone. I can just connect my mobile phone and I’m good to go!”

Good drivers and freight forwarding contractors play a major role in the success story of Lagermax. Highly-specced trucks are one asset capable of attracting and then keeping them. “We need drivers who are happy with their truck, who can take responsibility, and who can load and unload their trucks without damaging the freight,” Birgmann explains. “Anyone who has ever tried to manoeuvre a car worth over 100,000 euros onto a car transporter knows that it’s not always a walk in the park.”

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High load factor: Thanks to the Metago superstructure from Kässbohrer and the built-in hydraulic systems, the car transporter provides optimum use of available space for loading.

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Flexible loading system: The trend towards ever bigger and heavier cars calls for state-of-the art superstructures.

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“On motorways and out-of-town roads, the intelligent Predictive Powertrain Control cruise control system helps the driver to drive in as fuel-efficient a way as possible.”

Christian Lippeck

With the Actros, Lagermax is aiming for more than merely boosting its image as a leader in innovation and having drivers who are happy to work for the company. The transport services operator is also hoping to realise significant savings. One example is fuel consumption: “On motorways and regional roads, the intelligent Predictive Powertrain Control cruise control system helps the driver adopt the most fuel-efficient driving style,” says Birgmann. “With a mileage of over 100,000 kilometres a year per vehicle, every percentage point saved has an impact on our success in business.”

Equally decisive assets for Lagermax are its intelligent superstructures. The company collaborates with reputable manufacturers of vehicle superstructures, such as Lohr, Rolfo and Kässbohrer. As in the past, the rule of thumb in the industry still is that the service life of the relatively expensive superstructures and trailers is twice that of the truck itself. The Actros, for example, is fitted with the Metago model from Kässbohrer. Thanks to the complex hydraulic systems built into the superstructure, the car transporter can make optimum use of the space available. In addition, the layout of the superstructure is so flexible that a wide variety of vehicles can be carried efficiently.

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Franz Birgmann: “Our philosophy is to find technologically advanced solutions that allow us to increase the load factor, so that at the end of the day we can perhaps carry one extra car compared with competitors who spend little on technology.”

The background is that many of the recent models of cars have become bigger and bigger in recent years. SUVs have been growing in popularity, but they do take up more space both vertically and in terms of width than the average car used to in the past. Unfortunately for the transport companies, the haulage rates do not always keep pace with this development. That calls for technological solutions that allow vehicles to be securely stowed at a greater incline, which makes more efficient use of space.

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“Some of the vehicles weigh up to three tonnes!”

Franz Birgmann, Fleet Manager at Lagermax

Payload is also becoming a growing challenge, with increasing numbers of cars getting bigger, and hence weighing more. This is particularly true of electric vehicles: they are significantly heavier than conventional cars due to their batteries. “Many a car these days weighs up to three tonnes!” says Birgmann. He has already had all the prime movers fitted with an additional, especially light-weight leading axle in order to increase their payload.

All these examples show that the bar is being set higher and higher. Then there is the added factor of intense competition: today, the tone in the industry is set by just a few major players who often run fleets of several thousand trucks. The relatively high level of concentration ensures transparency in terms of haulage prices. The procurement specialists working for the shippers exploit this fact and haggle over every order to try to extract an additional percentage point if at all possible.

In the medium term, however, Birgmann sees long-term contracts with customers as the only way to keep investing in high-quality equipment. “The gap between increasing requirements and costs on the one hand, and the prices that can be realised in the market on the other must not get any wider!” The fleet manager is convinced that his philosophy of innovation when it comes to selecting vehicles is the way to ensure success in the long run. “It is the only way we can boost productivity at the same time as maintaining the quality of the transport services!”

Lagermax Autotransport GmbH intends to be innovative in its overall approach to tackling the future: the company no longer sees itself as an operation confined to transporting vehicles from A to B, but as a mobility services provider. In so-called ‘Future Workshops’, employees think about additional services the company could offer in the future. For many people, owning their own car is no longer the important status symbol it once was – especially if they only need to use a vehicle occasionally. This trend opens up potential for new types of services. Birgmann: “If a private customer wants to have a car at his front door in Vienna at 9 o’clock in the morning, we will offer such a service in the future, and the same goes for just-in-time collection in the evening.”

The broader strategic orientation of the company also reflects its customer structure. The traditional customers of car transporters have always been the manufacturing plants and distribution organisations of major carmakers. Lagermax prepares the vehicles for shipment and, on request, can also provide them with equipment such as first-aid kits, floor mats and protective covers. Private car dealerships, used car dealers, car rental companies and the operators of large corporate fleets have already been regular customers for decades. Relative newcomers, on the other hand, are car sharing service providers and online sales platforms.

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Central transhipment hub in Austria: Lagermax has premises covering more than 600,000 square metres in Strasswalchen alone.

To cater for all these customers, Lagermax has premises covering more than 600,000 square metres in Strasswalchen alone – a giant parking lot that stretches all the way to the horizon. It is from here that customers are served throughout Austria and neighbouring countries. Up to 1,000 vehicles arrive at the lot every day. If all goes well, the same number will leave the gigantic terminal again the same day. But there can be considerable fluctuations, and so making predictions for the medium term is almost impossible. “This is something we need to be prepared for, and that is why we require such a large area,” says Birgmann.

But Lagermax makes money not just with the transportation and intermediate storage of vehicles. Numerous value-adding services are also on offer: if, for example, a well-known Austrian soda pop manufacturer wants to have an advertising livery featuring an oversized can on its event vehicle, Lagermax is there to help. Fire trucks are also equipped and refurbished in Strasswalchen. Lagermax also handles paint jobs for returned used vehicles.

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Learnt his trade from the ground up: Lagermax fleet manager Franz Birgmann started out as a truck driver.

“You can only become an expert if you’re passionate about what you do!”

Christian Lippeck

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vehicles arrive at the premises on a daily basis.

The company has been around for 100 years now. During this period, car transport and related services have become the Group’s biggest business segment by far. The company will be holding celebrations to mark this milestone anniversary. In the thick of it: Franz Birgmann and Christian Lippeck, whose Actros was given the number AT 100 especially to mark this special anniversary.

Birgmann and Lippeck have known each other for over 10 years. The boss trusts his experienced truck driver – just one of the reasons why Lippeck is the first to drive a Actros at Lagermax. Birgmann wanted to know everything about how the vehicle stands up to the rigours of a driver’s daily routine, and he now considers the integration of the Actros into the fleet to be “a milestone in the company’s history”. It is obvious that what he still likes best about his job is the personal interaction with the drivers, and the work on and with the trucks. Says Christian Lippeck: “Only through passion can one become an expert!”.

Photos & video: Alexander Tempel