Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: Mexico records 692 commercial cargo thefts in April; VW cuts production in Mexico and Tennessee plants; ATRG acquires Texas trailer fleets; and CBP officers seize $5.5M worth of meth in Otay Mesa. 

Mexico records 692 commercial cargo thefts in April

Hundreds of commercial trucks on Mexico’s highways are being hijacked for their cargo every month, with criminal gangs becoming more violent, according to Mexican officials.

In April, 692 cargo trucks were robbed across the country, according to Mexico’s National Public Security System (SESNSP), an agency that monitors crime.

While cargo theft decreased 21% in April compared to the same period in 2020, Mexican officials said cargo security remains an issue for carriers and shipping companies.

“Security for cargo transportation is being challenged. No one is exempt from being attacked,” Verónica Torres Landa, executive director of the Mexican Association of Private Security Companies (AMESP), said. “These [cargo thefts] have been increasing today with violence, with firearms, criminal gangs with obstruction, cloned police vehicles, stolen trucks that are detained, stopping trailers with threats.”

Torres Landa was speaking during the 2021 Security Challenges for Motor Transport webinar on Tuesday. 

“The most stolen items are food and beverage, clothing and footwear, auto parts, steel, tires, wine and liquor,” she said. 

The highways around Mexico City, and the state of Mexico in the center of the country, are “hot spots” for cargo theft, according to Torres Landa.

Other hot spots for cargo theft are the highways and roads running through the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Guerrero and Nuevo León. 

While most cargo thefts occur in the central and central western regions of the country, the state of Nuevo León in northern Mexico — which includes a key border crossing with Laredo, Texas — has also been plagued by crime. In 2020, the state of Nuevo León recorded more than 550 cargo thefts, according to SESNSP.

Matt Silver, CEO of Forager, said cargo thieves are looking for freight they can steal and sell easily on the black market. Forager is a Chicago-based cross-border logistics technology platform founded in 2018. 

“They are trying to find stuff to make money with and some of the stuff that they’re looking for is tires, TVs, appliances,” Silver said. “It even happens in the U.S.” 

There were 870 cargo thefts throughout the U.S. in 2020, according to freight security specialist Sensitech, which found 48% of recorded thefts occurred in California (20%), Texas (18%), and Florida (10%).

Freight security firm CargoNet recorded 1,676 supply chain risk events across the U.S. and Canada in 2020. The average cargo theft was worth $166,334 in 2020. Texas led the way with 232 theft events in 2020.

CargoNet recorded 289 thefts in the supply chain in the first-quarter of 2021, a slight decrease compared to the same period last year. However, Texas, California, and Florida all reported significant increases in theft. 

FreightWaves’ SONAR Outbound Tender Volume Index for Texas (SONAR: OTVI.TX) is showing a huge jump year-over-year. The index, which measures outbound tender volume on a rolling seven-day average, was reading 1401.07, as of May 27, compared to a reading of 845.06 one year ago.

(Chart: FreightWaves SONAR. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

Commodities such as household major appliances, household paper goods, household cleaning supplies, furniture and food and beverage commodities were the most stolen categories of freight, according to CargoNet.

“Thieves are focusing on the products that they can steal and easily sell. They are looking for facilities to follow trucks from,” Silver said. “Just like if you drive down the highway in any city, you can see the buildings, they’ve got a big name on the side. Imagine if you go look in Guadalajara, Mexico, start looking for all the tequila facilities or look for that big [Flex Ltd.] electronics facility, where there’s all of that really high-value stuff.”

Silver said cargo thieves will scout out facilities, paying attention to the carriers that are going in and out, and follow trucks when they leave.

“They will watch the trucks to see if they get on a toll lane, which is more secure, or if they take other routes or the freeway, it tells them whether or not they will be following that carrier,” Silver said. “The other part of it is cargo thieves will pay attention to whether the carrier has security following the truck, like a convoy.”

Forager recently featured an interview with Jose Alfredo Cardenas — an expert on cross-border transportation — on the company’s blog. Cardenas is vice chairman of Transportes Innovativos, a truckload carrier based in Guadalajara, Mexico. The company also has terminals in Laredo, along with Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, Silao and Manzanillo, Mexico.

“Cargo theft is a major challenge for any cross-border supply chain, and we take it seriously,” Cardenas said. “Our security strategy is based on three tenets: the right people, the right processes and the right technology tools.”

Cardenas said they use technology such as GPS satellite tracking, trailer tracking, redundant cellular devices that help find trucks if criminals use a signal jamming device and even switches that can reduce the truck’s RPMs and prevent the engine from restarting once the truck’s been turned off. 

Silver said some of the ways cargo security can be improved across Mexico is through technology and building better cellular connections to carriers “to get better data from them in real time.”

“Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) certification plays a role in security too,” Silver said.

C-TPAT is a security program of U.S. Customs and Border Protection through which members become certified by implementing best practices for ensuring secure supply chains.

“One of the requirements with C-TPAT for carriers is that their trailer doors are welded so that they can’t take the doors off the hinges. The reason why you do that is because that’s an easy way to steal something out of a trailer. You take the doors off if you can’t break the seal,” Silver said. “Another is being even stricter around drivers and background checks. On the other side of it is really around how shippers can become better with what they’re shipping and how they’re shipping it.”

Silver said another possible way to cut down on cargo theft is for shippers to diversify their transportation methods by moving more freight by rail.

“We don’t do anything on the rail, but there is a benefit to freight moving on the rail, which is that typically the train goes and it’s hard to hijack a train. It’s on a rail and it goes in one direction,” Silver said. 

Volkswagen to cut production in Puebla and Chattanooga due to chip shortage

Volkswagen recently announced it will stop production at its plant in Puebla, Mexico, for three weeks in June and July, according to Automotive News.

The production cuts are due to an ongoing global semiconductor chip supply shortage, officials said. The Puebla plant produces the Jetta, Tiguan and Taos models.

“Volkswagen de México expects to make further adjustments to its production program, which will begin in June and at different times for its three production segments. The resumption of manufacturing activities will resume gradually. We will do our best to recover production later in the year,” the automaker said to its dealers in a letter shared with Automotive News.

Volkswagen also recently announced that the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, would lose two weeks of production in June. The Chattanooga plant builds the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport crossovers, as well as the Passat sedan.

American Trailer rental Group acquires Texas fleets

American Trailer Rental Group (ATRG) recently completed the acquisition of Dallas-based Advantage Trailer Leasing, as well as its operations in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Longview. 

ATRG also recently acquired the rental fleet of Earvin Equipment Inc. in Laredo, Texas. 

Evansville, Indiana-based ATRG is a group of companies with a rental fleet of about 16,000 units representing several regional trailer rental providers. The company operates under the Meisler Trailer Rental, First in Trailer Service, Fleet Trailer Rental, Advantage Trailer Rental and Arizona Storage Trailer brands.

CBP officers seize $5.5M worth of meth in Otay Mesa

Nearly 2,500 pounds of methamphetamine was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Otay Mesa commercial port of entry near San Diego.

The case happened May 21, when CBP officers discovered 120 packages of methamphetamine stashed in a commercial shipment of plastic parts from a tractor-trailer entering from Mexico. The drugs have an estimated street value of $5.5 million.

120 packages containing methamphetamine were discovered in a tractor-trailer at the Otay Mesa facility in California on May 21. (Photo: CBP)

The Mexican citizen who was driving the truck was arrested and turned over to Homeland Security Investigations. CBP seized the narcotics.

It was the third meth seizure in the same week at the Otay Mesa port of entry.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Noi Mahoney.

More articles by Noi Mahoney

Can Mexico capitalize on US automakers’ pivot to electric vehicles?

Driver shortage affecting cross-border trucking

Drivers needed to transport nuclear weapons across US

Storm-caused power outages cause traffic congestion at World Trade Bridge