Eastern European growth: driving CRT fuels innovation

You don't need to spend long on Western Europe's motorways to notice the dramatic changes which have occurred in commercial traffic patterns over the last decade. Spend just a few minutes noting down the registration plates of any truck you pass, and you'll be recording as many Polish, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Romanian and Turkish plates as German or Spanish ones.

That in itself is not the interesting point. There are frankly obvious reasons why international commercial road freight is increasingly dominated from the East of Europe: cabotage legislation, lower operating costs and driver wages, and the ability to buy fuel where excise duty is lowest. Add to that the surge in e-load-broking, which enables any haulier to bid online for work anywhere on the continent, and you realise these trends are not going to change any time soon: if anything, the structural shift of the market towards the East will accelerate.


What's far more interesting is the way this shift is going to influence the evolution of fuel offers for the Commercial Road Transport sector. To crack that, you have to understand how fundamentally different the priorities of a Logistics Manager in Vilnius, Bucharest or Istanbul are from those of a manager in the "traditional" hubs of Rotterdam, Hamburg or Barcelona.


At the core of this are simple differences. Lower-paid drivers hired by Eastern European firms spend much longer away from base than their Western European counterparts, travel much further, and buy much more fuel on the way. Despite that, their "convenience" plays a far less significant role in a Fleet Manager's mind than the need to meticulously restrict and control what they can spend.


Whilst that may seem simple, there's a gaping hole between the traditional international offers of today's fuel market leaders, and the evolving "control and restrict" demands placed by the new, dominant transport players from Europe's East.


Firms moving thousands of trucks around all corners of Europe may look like a perfect fit with fuel card schemes which offer networks of thousands of acceptance points. Until they tell you they are only interested in twenty locations, and they want everything else blocked. And until they go on to explain that they want those twenty sites available only for specified volumes of specified fuel grades during specific (and short) time windows.


And it goes further. An Eastern European forwarder whose "raison d'etre" is cost competitiveness doesn't give an owl's hoot if his driver needs to carry four fuel cards - one for Spain, one for Austria, another for Belgium and another still for Poland, maybe - if that is what secures the best price at the optimum refuelling location, and prevents the driver making his own choice to stop and refuel somewhere more "convenient".


What's more, the new market leaders in commercial transport are determined to eradicate fraud, either by fuel theft or card cloning. Are existing online authorisation technologies sufficient to do this? The answer is in the question: expect the market to start demanding intelligent new generation technologies to identify and target suspicious activity far more reliably, and in real time.


There are interesting times ahead. The platforms on which today's CRT fuel card market leaders compete are ill-equipped to cope with the new demands of "extreme" control and restriction being driven from the East of the continent, and investment in functionality to restrict network availability would be profoundly counter-cultural for them, even if the investment capital were available.


What we are likely to see is a fundamental reshaping of the CRT fuel cards market, with agile new acceptance models linking up with artificial intelligence technologies, and being brought to market by hitherto peripheral players. Shifting sands........


If you'd like to speak with CRT Consulting about any of the topics discussed here, please visit our website at www.crt-europe.com and get in contact.

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