A New Headache for Automakers: Train Robberies

a new headache for automakers train robberies

Let’s face it: there’s few things more romantic than trains, and robberies of said trains have formed the backbone of great novels and films for over a century. The modern reality is not quite Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, however. It’s impoverished and not quite moral bandits piling rocks onto tracks in a bid to derail a train, then making off with whatever they can sell. No dynamite and bank vaults here.

In Mexico, the rising popularity of such robberies is proving an expensive headache for automakers shipping cars from Mexican assembly plants.

According to Bloomberg (h/t to Jalopnik), the largely agricultural town of Acultzingo, four hours southeast of Mexico City, is the epicenter of an explosion in train robberies. The past year alone saw 521 crimes committed against freight trains in Acultzingo. It seems that the declining popularity of fuel theft has turned bandits loose on other targets of opportunity, and trains make for a particularly profitable payday.

Once derailed by a rock pile (or cut brake lines), robbers lying in wait raid the train cars for anything of value that can be easily carried away. Booze, footwear, anything — including parts wrenched off factory-fresh automobiles. And these losses pale in comparison to the overall damage incurred from the train wreck. One derailment saw GMexico Transportes take a $15 million hit.

So bad are the losses from train bandits that Mazda, which produces the Mazda 2 and 3 at its Salamanca assembly plant, has taken to driving some of its products to their intended destination. Bloomberg cites analyst estimates of a 30 percent increase in the shipping costs of those vehicles. Still, it’s preferable to taking the cars through Acultzingo by rail, but only to a point.

Semi trucks travelling lonely stretches of highway are also inviting targets.

Mazda isn’t along in taking losses from train bandits. Audi ships 3,300 vehicles per day to the port of Veracruz from its Puebla assembly plant, and a spokesperson claims the thefts have had a “big impact” on its distribution. “Every car we make has a client waiting for it,” the automaker said.

Last month, Mexico’s auto industry association boss, Eduardo Solis, called out the crimes. The train robberies are “simply unacceptable,” he said.

With rail-bound robberies on the rise, it looks like the only solution is a coordinated federal response, which is credited with reducing the prevalence of fuel robberies — to the detriment of the rail industry and its customers.

[Image: Mazda]

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  • Charliej Charliej on Jul 31, 2018

    It is obvious that a lot of people who comment know nothing about Mexico. Having lived here for a few years I have no worries about my safety. I live in a small town in the mountains of central Mexico. In all my time of living here there have been no problems at all. The people are friendly and caring. There are criminals, as there are anywhere, including the US. Most of the people who wind up dead are members of cartels, killed by members of other cartels. As far as the train robberies, they are crimes of opportunity. Semi trucks were targeted earlier. The trucks began running in convoys and robberies mostly ended. Remember is is a small group who are criminal and most of the people do not support them. People actively fight them. A couple of cases, a bus was stopped and two men attempted to rob it. They had knives as most people do not have guns. One robber escaped with his life, the other did not. The people do not like robbers. A bus near Mexico City was stopped and three men attempted to rob it. They had guns but so did one of the passengers. The passenger shot all three robbers and then shot each in the head after they were down. He then walked away and was not seen again. Vigilantism is rife here. In the town where I live homes were being broken into and possessions stolen. The police knew who was doing it but had no proof. The police talked to some of the citizens and the crook simply disappeared. He has not been seen again after a few years. I have no doubt that he is at the bottom on a deep canyon in the mountains. People with few possessions will not stand for them being stolen. In Michoacan the self defense forces are starting up again. Cartel members who go out alone at night might not ever come back. The people of Mexico are incredibly good natured but they don't put up with any shit either. I like living here and I like the people who I interact with every day. A lot of Americans would not like it here but I will never go back to the US. Mexico is now my home.

  • Rengaw Rengaw on Jul 31, 2018

    Back to the Mexican beer thing. I recently read where Mexico is the largest exporter of beer in the world, taking over from Holland. The USA being the largest purchaser of Mexican beer and Corona the top brand sold. I have tried many Mexican beers and enjoy Bohemia and Pacifico the most. Many of the Mexican beers were started by German immigrants. I heard a story about VW setting up a factory in Mexico but being unable to attract enough workers which resulted in VW literally building living quarters for workers. As a sidelight, VW was offering classes in German for Mexican workers. I imagine the many auto manufacturers who have plants in Mexico are finding more problems than they anticipated. I have not really heard of quality control problems relative to the industry in general. I admit my last handful of vehicle all had the J VIN. My wife and I favor buying Japanese monikered vehicles with lots of miles on them and having good service records.

  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.
  • Dlc65688410 Please stop, we can't take anymore of this. Think about doing something on the Spanish Pegaso.
  • MaintenanceCosts A few bits of context largely missing from this article:(1) For complicated historical reasons, the feds already end up paying much of the cost of buying new transit buses of all types. It is easier legally and politically to put capital funds than operating funds into the federal budget, so the model that has developed in most US agencies is that operational costs are raised from a combination of local taxes and fares while the feds pick up much of the agencies' capital needs. So this is not really new spending but a new direction for spending that's been going on for a long time.(2) Current electric buses are range-challenged. Depending on type of service they can realistically do 100-150 miles on a charge. That's just fine for commuter service where the buses typically do one or two trips in the morning, park through the midday, and do one or two trips in the evening. It doesn't work well for all-day service. Instead of having one bus that can stay out from early in the morning until late at night (with a driver change or two) you need to bring the bus back to the garage once or twice during the day. That means you need quite a few more buses and also increases operating costs. Many agencies are saying for political reasons that they are going to go electric in this replacement cycle but the more realistic outcome is that half the buses can go electric while the other half need one more replacement cycle for battery density to improve. Once the buses can go 300 miles in all weather they will be fine for the vast majority of service.(3) With all that said, the transition to electric will be very good. Moving from straight diesel to hybrid already cut down substantially on emissions, but even reduced diesel emissions cause real public health damage in city settings. Transitioning both these buses and much of the urban truck fleet to electric will have measurable and meaningful impacts on public health.