Bayport_Cruise_TerminalCar terminal operator, Auto Warehousing Company (AWC), has taken over the Bayport Cruise Terminal at the US port of Houston as part of a five-year lease of 15 hectares of land there. It will be using the facility and surrounding land to import vehicles from next month.

It is the first time AWC has imported vehicles through the port and the first time that the Bayport facility has handled vehicles, though Volkswagen uses Houston to ship vehicles, including Audis, from the port of Emden in Germany and, when rail is at capacity, from Mexico’s port of Veracruz.

AWC has not revealed what sort of investments it will be making to convert the cruise terminal into a dedicated vehicle handling facility. However, the decision to reappoint the terminal to handle vehicle volumes is welcome news in the US where port capacity for finished vehicle moves is getting tight.

Cruise companies Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) and Princess Cruises did not renew their contracts this year with the port of Houston making the terminal redundant and leading the Port of Houston Authority to look for other uses for it. NCL and Princess Cruises signed contracts in 2012 but before that the facility sat unused for about six years.

In July the port issued a stevedore licence for vehicle unloading to AWC’s sister company APS Stevedoring.

The terminal is expected to import 36,000 vehicles over the next three years. That will add to the 165,500 the port handled overall last year, exclusively covered by imports.

The growth of the North American vehicle industry has put port and terminal infrastructure to the test. Not only have car sales across the US, Canada and Mexico reached record levels, but so too has vehicle assembly – rising to 17.5m light vehicles last year and forecast to reach almost 20m by 2022, according to PwC Autofacts.

Last year 2,900 ro-ro ships that made more than 7,000 port calls at the 40 ports in the US equipped to handle vehicle traffic according to the US Maritime Administration.

Earlier this year, Marc Berg, director of sales and marketing at AWC, told Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine that the company had experienced constraints resulting from volume surges but had handled the situation by prioritising shipments and working with outbound rail providers serving the ports.

Höegh Autoliner’s subsidiary, Horizon Terminal Enterprises, is using nearby Freeport for both import and export. The facility became operational last November and is expected to export 80,000 units this year and import 20,000. General Motors is one of the carmakers that facility.