DAS gets around
Where there's a wheel there's a way for international and domestic used vehicle moves.
By Chris Dupin
Dependable Auto Shippers was founded in 1954 as a 'driveaway' company in New York that helped snowbirds and others find drivers to move their vehicles around the country.
Today, DAS is a company with annual sales of about $130 million and 375 employees, transporting thousands of automobiles by truck each year domestically and around the world.
The company long ago abandoned the driveaway business, and now uses its own fleet of specialized trucks to move cars, motorcycles and other equipment. It acquired its first truck in 1990 and today operates a fleet of about 90 to 100 large long-haul carriers and another 30 to 40 shorter distance 'shuttle trucks' that carry three or five cars to and from its terminals around the country.
While domestic transport is still most of the company's business, international transport has 'taken off and is now one of the shining lights,' accounting for about one-fifth of its sales, said Scott LaForge, executive vice president.
About 10 years ago the company began to get requests from clients to move cars internationally. The company acquired a freight forwarding license, then about a year later became a non-vessel-operating common carrier.
The company was started in 1954 by Samuel London. Richard LaForge, his son-in-law, joined the company in 1968 and Sam's two sons Rick and Robert signed on shortly afterwards. Today Rick London, president and chief executive officer, and John Roehll, executive vice president of Dependable Auto Shippers, lead the domestic operations from the company's headquarters in Mesquite, Texas. Scott and his father Richard, president and CEO of the DAS Global, operate the international business from a facility in Linden, N.J., with about 40 employees.
The company's offices and container freight station in Linden is located about 10 miles from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Newark and Elizabeth terminals. DAS also has facilities in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.
LaForge said the company will ship out of any major seaport, commonly using Tacoma, Wash.; Oakland and Los Angeles, Calif.; Baltimore; Brunswick, Ga.; Jacksonville and Miami, Fla.; in addition to Newark and Elizabeth.
Most of the company's international shipments move by container, though the company also moves vehicles with roll-on/roll-off carriers such as Wallenius Wilhelmsen and Pasha.
'As an NVOCC we have tariffs and contract with numerous steamship lines, but what we do depends on the commodity and what the customer wants. Some people prefer a container, others want to use a ro/ro,' Scott LaForge said.
'Our preference these days is to consolidate through the containerization of vehicles,' he said. The company commonly puts three cars or four smaller ones in a container, using experienced crews who know how to block, brace and build platforms and frames that allow some vehicles to be carried above others in the same box.
Ro/ro ships don't go to all ports and don't offer the same frequency of service as container carriers, he said. By consolidating several automobiles in a container, 'we can get the price down for the customer as opposed to them putting a single car on a ro/ro vessel. But we will still do 500-700 cars with Wallenius off the East Coast.'
The company has contracts with agents overseas that stuff and strip its containers at foreign ports.
In 2009, LaForge said the company moved about 20,000 units by ocean, about 7,000 fewer than its best year. The company moves about 100,000 vehicles domestically, though in its best year moved up to 125,000.
|'As an NVOCC we have tariffs and contract with numerous steamship lines, but what we do depends on the commodity and what the customer wants. Some people prefer a container, others want to use ro/ro. Our preference these days is to consolidate through the containerization of vehicles.'|
executive vice president,
While the global recession has hurt business, LaForge said that has been partially offset by the weak dollar, which has given Europeans a lot of buying power. He said anytime the euro is worth more than $1.40 'you will see a lot of activity,' and during the past year, he noted, it topped $1.50.
The company had a similar experience several years ago when the ruble increased in value and shipments to Russia rose sharply to the point where DAS was shipping about 50 containers a week to St. Petersburg or Kotka, Finland, for onward transport to Russia.
About 80 percent of the company's business is moving personal vehicles from a variety of sources, including individuals booking car movements, or large companies arranging relocations for employees within the United States or abroad.
It works closely with companies that run automobile auctions, including online auctions such as eBay Motors.
The company also has a partnership with Horizon Lines marketing automobile transportation through a shared Web site called shipmyvehicle.com.
Movements to and from Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam are a big source of business for DAS as are cars moving to and from Canada. But the company ships autos to the Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and other Asian locations.
The company also moves a lot of vintage automobiles and unusual equipment. A recent visit to its facility in Linden found its parking lot filled with classic cars from the 1950s, a World War 1 armored vehicle and a Model T Ford in the warehouse.
The cost of moving an automobile depends on variables such as the time of year, how quickly the move needs to be completed, whether the customer wants door-to-door delivery or is willing to drop off or pick up at one of DAS's consolidation facilities.
Typically it might cost $800 to $1,200 to move a car from New York to Los Angeles, including insurance, and about $800 to move a car across the Atlantic ' more if door-to-door service to inland destinations is requested; less if a shipper is consolidating several vehicles. The DAS Web site has an online calculator to estimate the cost of domestic transportation.
The company offers a variety of other services, such as moving cars from a railhead in Dallas to dealers within about a 200-mile radius. It also moves cars for companies such as Porche, Audi, Saab, Volkswagen and Mercedes to dealers around the country, especially when corporate relocations and movements of personal vehicles are slack.
LaForge said DAS is hoping for an upturn in the second half of 2010. The recent downturn led to reduced hiring and relocation of employees, as well as reduced consumer spending ' the enthusiast who might have spent $30,000 on a Corvette at eBay Motors, may have decided to put it in the bank for a rainy day.
The company also does a lot of work under government contract, moving vehicles and 'lift vans' ' large wooden crates filled with personal property for military families moving abroad. It also moves vehicles for employees of government agencies such as the State Department.
As a fully licensed forwarder and NVO, the company moves other sorts of cargo as well. It recently moved a helicopter and small airplane to Tasmania, and oil field drill bits to Baku in Azerbaijan.