By on July 31, 2018

2017 Mazda 3 - Image: Mazda

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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59 Comments on “A New Headache for Automakers: Train Robberies...”


  • avatar
    Duaney

    Taking advantage of lower labor costs in Mexico has many disadvantages. They might consider building more vehicles in the good old USA.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Mexico at the moment is a ‘failed state’. The rule of law does not exist. Crime is rampant.

    Capital does not like this type of environment. It much prefers certainty.

    Which is why for decades, corporations have backed military dictatorships and dictatorial rulers. They provide the ‘stability’ that capital investment craves.

    Unless the situation in Mexico ‘stabilizes’ it may then experience a flight of capital. Regardless of tariff negotiations.

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      Quoted for truth. I actually fail to see the problem here- other than Mazda and Audi questioning how good a decision it was to move production to Mexico. My initial reaction is “serves ’em right.”

    • 0 avatar
      Hydromatic

      So it’s time for the U.S. to dispose Mexico’s current government and install a military junta who’ll crack some peasant skulls?*

      *Cartel skulls? Not so much, if at all.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Project out current trends here in the US with the gutting of the middle class and sending ever more of the nation’s wealth to the tip top 0.01%, it is only a matter of time before we become like Mexico. With our current one party rule and plenty of deceptively worded means for good old fashioned bribery and corruption, (hello Citizens United decision) we are well on our way.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    (maga)

  • avatar
    heycarp

    if would simply allow more of these unfortunates into our country , then Mexico would not have these problems.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    I can’t wait until we’re enriched by this culture. When your trains are being derailed and robbed you know you’ve been touched by diversity. “Scratch & Dent” sales can’t be far behind.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Maybe they need to utilize armed train marshals.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I’m thinking an updated version of cattle catchers designed to catch rocks

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Just pay 100 Pesos per left ear and citizens themselves will basically stop this. Same thing on our border. Just allow militia to detain illegals and no need for gov agencies. People should watch their land themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      When I visited suppliers in Celaya the trains I saw passing by invariably had armed guards on some of the cars. They looked like Federales but I couldn’t tell for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      When I visited suppliers in Celaya the trains I saw passing by invariably had armed guards on some of the cars. They looked like Federales but I couldn’t tell for sure.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Reap what you sow.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Lots of people say it doesn’t matter where the car is built, they’re the same everywhere. But I’d still be looking for a J VIN if I was buying a Mazda.

    Anyway, this problem could be solved if manufacturers just moved farther south. I’m sure it’s just a Mexico problem.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      But I’d still be looking for a J VIN if I was buying a Mazda.

      Yeah if you are buying a truly Japanese brand (one that still retains a bit of its quickly out of the mainstream-ness) why buy one manufactured in Mexico?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I want you to feel proud today. Every day on my driveway I have 4 j-vin cars and j-vin bike in the garage to top it off. To make it even sweeter, 2 direct predecessors to these cars also were j-vin. In fact, I really feel down when a car I am interested in is not a j-vin

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    There was a comment in an article on TTAC a few months ago about the high number of RAM pickups being damaged between manufacture and delivery in to the US. Probably due to a similar issue – I remember the lawlessness when I lived down there years ago and this rather fits the picture. I think of it as, “The Land of La Mordida”, where bribes will get you what you require or desire. Not really a new issue but the drug trade cartel-mentality has made it worse, no doubt.

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    Can somebody explain to me why so many people drink Mexican beers?

    For the most part, they’re pretty crappy lagers. Corona, Modelo, Sol, Tecate — all swill. The only decent one is Bohemia — and for what it goes for there are plenty of craft beers that are far better. I don’t get it.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      I don’t usually drink Mexican beer, but when I do, I don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I actually like SOL and the original green bottle Dos Equis. Corona I don’t understand other than marketing.

        But then I always got a kick out both the American Beer Brewers and Mexican Beer Brewers having essentially German roots.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          PrincipalDan, the same is true of the big Chinese brewers. Tsingtao and Yanjing both taste like German beers, both being brewed in areas of the country with a heavy German influence.

          And I like Negra Modelo, just because I like that style of beer. It’s not very popular and so somewhat difficult to find from other brands.

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            I agree, Negra Modelo is decent. I don’t care much for Modelo Especial, but I like the Modelo.

    • 0 avatar
      I_like_stuff

      I have been told by many, many smart people that anything produced outside the US is far superior to anything produced inside the US. Therefore, the worst Mexican beer is superior to the best American beer.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “Therefore, the worst Mexican beer is superior to the best American beer.”

        Being Canadian, I’m inclined to support that statement ;)

        If it is any consolation,I’m not a fan of any of the mainstream brews north of the 49th parallel either.

        • 0 avatar
          TCragg

          I live in the hometown of Labatt’s, and I can’t say I care much for their products, despite having friends and neighbours who make their living brewing the stuff. Thankfully London, Ontario, like most other places, has a healthy craft brewing industry, and there are alternatives to the macro monolith that are both local and delicious.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        “…anything produced outside the U.S. is far superior to anything produced inside the U.S.” I used to agree with that sentiment many years ago, we even used to drive up to Ontario to buy beer. But now that notion is passe as there are literally thousands of different American beers. Some restaurants and taverns here in town make their own beers (and liquors) and many of them are fantastic. This is just one small city. Many of the micro-breweries release seasonal beers that are very good too, esecially the Autumn brews.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Sub-600 – true. It is amazingly easy to find a good beer with the craft beer craze in full swing. Mainstream beer is just good for flushing out your kidneys.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s all about corn syrup. Crap US brews use a lot of this, whereas the German style Mex brews (vienna lagers, basically) are based on malt. It’s all 4.5 to 5 % beer, which we in the US would call “lawnmower beer”. Not to strong, but who wants to drink a Belgian Tripel in 95 degree heat ? A cheap mexican beer, brewed with malt and/or rice, will still be a better beer than the corn syrup headache-in-a-can the mass market US brews are. Sadly Molson and a few others use corn syrup too….the other issue is that candy, ice cream, and many other products outside the US have fewer fake ingredients-so you can travel, buy a brand “you know”, and get a better product (coca-cola, Fanta, any ice cream that is packaged) than at home. I’m happy for the craft brew craze…we just left a bar in Harrisburg, PA which had over 90 craft brews of every possible style. At this point, if you drink crappy US beer, it’s your choice…

      • 0 avatar
        Erikstrawn

        If you’re talking grocery store mass-produced beer, yes, Mexican beer is superior to Bud, Coors, Miller, etc. However, there is a lot of great beer being made by local breweries. I do agree with the sentiment that Mexican beer is better in the heat, but to me beer is what you drink when the day’s work is done, so I prefer darker beers served cold in the evening shade.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Pacifico is actually pretty good. Once in a great while (years ago) I would drink a Bohemia, but it’s not that easy to find these days – you usually have to go to liquor stores to buy it, as places like Walmart generally don’t carry it.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Mexican beer taste is stronger and most everything else tastes watered-down in comparison. The only one of those I like is TECATE. OK I like it a lot, even though it doesn’t get you drunker faster.

      Beer isn’t my favorite adult beverage, but if I’m gonna drink it, I wanna taste it.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I will occasionally go out of my way to drink Pacifico strictly out of nostalgia for my time spent down there for work. If I’m drinking cheap generic lager then I’m obviously not going for taste in the first place. I like the look of the label.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand craft beer aficionados and beer enthusiasts in general. I want to be able to see through it, I want it to be cold, I want it to be cheap, and being from a state that takes drunkenness seriously, I want it to be 6 point. Otherwise, I don’t care what I’m drinking. ‘Murica for the win, bitches!

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    Sympathy I have for GM on this: Zero Point Zero

    You want to take advantage of near slave wages and no regulations of a 3rd World country? Terrific. But then don’t be shocked when things like this happen.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoBelugas

      Um, where was GM mentioned? GMexico Transportes is a Mexican rail transport company. The article mentioned Mazda and Audi.

      http://www.gmexico.com/site/nosotros/transporte.html

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “…near slave wages and no regulations…”

      False. Wages are lower than the US, but not out of line for the cost of living in MX.

      Mexico isn’t a lawless country, but in this instance they’re having trouble enforcing the law.

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        “Mexico isn’t a lawless country, but in this instance they’re having trouble enforcing the law.”

        sounds like they need to pass stricter and more numerous laws to make up for the lack of enforcement of existing laws. /s

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          This is where Russia can make profit. If Mexico pays russia for handling criminals. In old russian tradition, all they need to do is to take these gangsters, put them into remote Siberian city from which there is nowhere to run. And let them build their society in there. Mexico should pay whatever they save on jail. They live in this city for duration of term and no guards needed. This is best punishment. Make criminals live with those like them

          • 0 avatar
            TS020

            That’s…a good idea actually. Can also use it for SJW’s and other parasites. The middle of Australia works as well. They can have their own little enclave where they can debate the victim hierarchy and screech about being offended away from everyone else.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Let nature run its course. Move production to a more stable region, improve border security, and then check back every few decades to see if Mexico has something worthwhile to offer.

    Either that or just get some trains with frikkin’ lasers on their heads.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    My father grew up in Los Angeles and he used to go on family vacations to Mexico. And no I don’t mean fly to Cabo and spend a week in a gated compound on the ocean. I mean get in the station wagon and drive around Mexico, to small towns, beach towns, etc. His family did this on several occasions.

    And it’s amazing to think that not THAT long ago – 55ish years ago – it was possible to do that. How far Mexico has descended into a lawless country, is quite sad.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I remember driving to Canada without a passport, often. Times have changed

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Forget the small towns, they can’t even keep the tourist areas safe anymore. Acapulco has the highest murder rate in Mexico, and bodies are showing up on Cancun beaches with 14 people murdered in 36 hours earlier this year.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      I drove between San Diego and Michoacan about 30 years ago. After the internal border about 50 miles in (where you paid a tax on the calefaccion of your vehicle and a bribe to the guards) we’d encounter numerous heavily armed Federale “checkpoints” that were there because of the bandidos attacking motorists along Federal Highway 15. Each time the vehicle would be searched for weapons before we were allowed to continue. A 1,650 mile trip one-way. The last time I was in Michoacan the Federales were out in force – a local transit bus running between Aguililla and Apatzingan was attacked and all 16 people onboard were killed for their belongings, an incident that was not at all rare even back then.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Even back then, you weren’t free to stand out in a crowd, draw attention to yourself and or be a A$$hole.

        Even in Chicago, you don’t want to make yourself a target.

        • 0 avatar
          bullnuke

          Agreed, DenverMike. This kid kept his head down and let his Hispanic wife (now ex-wife) do all the negotiating. Driving a VW van also helped…

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            A vW van would’ve been perfect! The best I could do was a borrowed Ford Fairmont that was clean, near mint, during the late ’80s era and later.

            So I’d pop off the hubcaps, and run it through muddy puddles, high speed. No one really noticed the gringo plates after that.

  • avatar
    stuki

    55 years ago??? I used to drive around Mexico 20-25 years ago. Until getting car insurance became a problem. Then rode around there on bikes for another decade….. It’s only over the past 10-12-15 years that things have gotten genuinely unpredictable for even “regular Joes” not explicitly out looking for excitement.

    I still know Gringos who live down there. Some who used to make a living selling retirement homes/plots in “paradise.” Needless to say, that business is no longer all it once was……

  • avatar
    thatoneguy247

    What happened to the new commenting policy here? I’m happy to read intelligent opinions from all sides of the political spectrum when they are relevant to the article, but I’ve noticed lately that some of the comments from the “Best and Brightest” are no better than baseless vitriol. Can we keep the punditry off of TTAC?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    You’ve got to be careful whenever you’re in a place run by someone named El Presidente.

  • avatar
    Charliej

    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.

  • avatar
    Rengaw

    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.


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