CMA CGM has long been one of the key players on the Southeast Asian market, and they have seen firsthand the growth potential of the area being boosted by changes in sourcing patterns and relocation of manufacturing from China. Looking to seize upon the opportunity and accompany regional growth, they have unveiled an exciting new weekly direct service to US West Coast dedicated to Southeast Asia and with a direct call in Laem Chabang.
This new service is just one part of a host of changes that are currently underway for the industry as a whole. Due to the volatility of world trade over recent years, major steamship lines have been reacting through mergers, acquisitions, and operationally grouping together in alliances as a way to extend their service coverage.
The new alliance structures implemented from April 2017 represent a massive change for the industry, due to the sheer size, scope and duration of the agreements compared to everything that has come before. Under the new arrangements, the existing 4 major alliances have been rationalized to become 3, amongst which the OCEAN ALLIANCE (OA) will be the biggest ever vessel sharing arrangement between carriers. OA is a 10-year agreement, covering 40 different services and operating more than 320 vessels.
CMA CGM, as the largest of the 4 partners within the OA, will also operate the largest share of its vessels and as the biggest vessel operator within the biggest alliance, CMA CGM is in a unique position to benefit from the new organization. We are also already seeing the phase in of vessels to the OA services in North/Central China in week 14, and thereafter from week 15 and 16 the new services will begin from Southeast Asia.
Until now, CMA CGM’s services from Thailand to North America have been based on a feeder vessel to a transshipment port hub where Thailand cargo is loaded onto a mother vessel, alongside cargo from across all Asia for the rest of its voyage. Inevitably, the intermediary ports and the transshipment hub operation result in longer transit times, whilst any operational delays or heavy fluctuations in booking levels could also trigger a switch of mother vessel at the connecting port.
CMA CGM is looking to change the status quo with the introduction of its new dedicated Southeast Asia loop with direct calls to the major Southeast Asian ports: Singapore, Port Klang, Jakarta, Cai Mep and Laem Chabang. This is especially exciting news for the Thai market as this new ‘JAX’ service offers one of the fastest transit times in the market from Thailand to US.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Steve Bradley, CMA CGM Thailand’s Managing Director, to find out more about the Thailand operation, his views on the alliance structure, and the opportunities this new service brings to the table.
“We’re delighted to have the new JAX service starting from Thailand,” said Mr. Bradley. “This new weekly service from Thailand direct to the US West Coast really gives CMA CGM a competitive edge, and further enhances our comprehensive service offering from Thailand. We have noted the strong, double digit growth on US market from and to Thailand over the past 12 months, so it’s perfect timing to introduce our new USWC service. Having a direct service is key for this market, and with an excellent transit time of 19 days into Los Angeles, plus using a loop which is 100% CMA CGM operated, we have all the tools to ensure a premium and reliable service. This is a pendulum service, meaning it’s coming inbound from the US East Coast; in other words, we have US East Coast direct service into Thailand as well.”
This new weekly service from Thailand direct to the US West Coast really gives CMA CGM a competitive edge, and further enhances our comprehensive service offering from Thailand.
This is great news for both exporters and importers who will henceforth have the peace of mind of a fast and reliable service; customers will know from the outset that their cargo will arrive on the same vessel it left on, and on the date specified.
Mr. Bradley said, “CMA CGM has always been a strong player in the Thai market, and this new JAX service is a major development that takes the company’s North American service to a whole new level. As we are the vessel operator, we have a certain additional flexibility in the way we can accommodate our customers’ requirements, which can facilitate the organization of out of gauge and project cargo shipments, and accelerates the IMDG validation, for example. Our Group is also a shareholder in the terminals called by JAX at Laem Chabang and Los Angeles, so we really have optimal visibility and control on the operation from end to end. Customers can gain a big advantage by booking with CMA CGM on this OCEAN Alliance service.”
“Allied to the direct Laem Chabang calls, we are also enhancing our intermodal offerings from Thailand, which enables shippers in the Bangkok area and Songkhla in Southern Thailand to connect up with our extensive OA services. We offer barge service from Bangkok, as well as truck and train intermodal from Lat Krabang ICD to connect with our services in Laem Chabang. In addition, through a network of feeders from Bangkok, Laem Chabang and Songkhla we can offer weekly, or better, frequency of departure to match up with the full OA service package. In this case, we are focusing our transshipments on Singapore where CMA CGM recently opened a joint venture terminal with PSA.”
Investing Within Thailand
Besides bringing new shipping services, CMA CGM has also invested on the landside in Thailand with their new empty container depot at Laem Chabang. Mr. Bradley explains that this is all part of the strategy of the group, to invest in associated businesses close to its core shipping vertical. “As part of our development worldwide the Group invests in terminals and container depots. In Thailand, we are now pleased to have our own dedicated container depot in Laem Chabang, operated by CMA CGM Depot Services Ltd.”
We have to differentiate ourselves with our attitude and ability to react to different customers’ requirements.
“Customers in Thailand can be demanding in terms of equipment quality and availability, so having an in-house depot ensures we have a precise vision of our container stock and can react faster to adapt it to our customers’ requirements. Furthermore, we can ensure containers released really correspond to what customers need. Laem Chabang and the Eastern Seaboard area can account for roughly 50% of the market in Thailand, so having our in-house container depot in that area is very convenient and it’s all part of our strategy. Having successfully ramped up to optimum operating capacity at CCDS Laem Chabang, we are studying opportunities to open up further depots in Thailand.”
While the new alliance structure is helping major carriers to stabilize and develop a good base cost structure, it can also be wrongly interpreted as a standardization of services. Even though the different carriers in the alliance offer the same service loops with the same vessels, each one differentiates itself from the others. CMA CGM does it thanks to its people, Mr. Bradley says, “We have to differentiate ourselves with our attitude and ability to react to different customers’ requirements. At CMA CGM Thailand, we invest heavily in our people. The Group has chosen to maintain a large local structure, and is initiating regional training academies to develop talents.
Following the acquisition of APL, we have around 250 people working for CMA CGM Group in Thailand today, and about two thirds are on the commercial side, in Sales and Customer Services. This focus on, and dedication to, individual customers and their requirements is one of the keys to our success on the Thai market.”
This also leads into what Mr. Bradley sees as the approach the company takes towards customers and their business. “We are a company that is always adjusting our organization and our service portfolio to match customer’s needs; the pace of changes in international trade is constantly accelerating and this forces us to adapt. CMA CGM is a group which is constantly questioning itself and trying to address changes in our customers’ business to adjust our own service structure. We try to be involved with all cargo segments, to address and tailor our approach to each customer’s requirements according to origin, destination, commodity, etc and we’re not afraid to develop into new areas. This flexibility I feel has been one of the keys to CMA CGM’s superior growth compared to most other carriers over the last two decades.”
“For Thailand, this approach combined with the backing of the CMA CGM Group resources in vessels, containers, network, systems, and management has brought us to a point where we can offer the most extensive port coverage on the Thai market, best-in-class transit times and sailing frequencies, and we strive to ensure a customer service at the same level.”