The German port of Bremerhaven has taken the top European spot for vehicle handling in 2011-and likely the world-with a record-breaking volume of 2,050,000 units handled last year. The result represents a 30% increase in vehicle handling compared to the previous year and means Bremerhaven has come from second place in the European port rankings to beat the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, consistently the top European vehicle handling port in recent years, which was hurt by a drop-off in Japanese imports following last year's earthquake.
The result for Bremerhaven highlights economic growth on a global level to some extent, with an increase in exports from Germany to the emerging BRIC markets. For instance, it handles exports to China for carmakers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen, as well as imports of Chinese vehicles from OEMs, including First Auto Works, Geely and Chery (mainly as transshipment to Eastern Europe and Russia). New business from Volkswagen has also played its part following a contract awarded in Brazil for the export of vehicle parts worldwide.
The company has also seen an increase in imports from German carmakers in the US to Europe. These include the BMW X3 model from the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant and a new Mercedes-Benz M-Class model from the Tuscaloosa, Alabama plant.
Transhipments are also an increasingly big part of Bremerhaven's vehicle trade. "We achieved 38% growth in transshipments from the US and Asia to Russia in 2011," said Wolfgang Stoever, sales director at BLG Automobile Logistics, the vehicle terminal operator at Bremerhaven. "This was due to the economic recovery in Russia as well as increased market saturation that stems from a high degree of financing."
Zeebrugge for its part still handled an impressive 1.75m vehicles last year, which was a 9% increase over 2010, but the main reason that it did not keep pace with the port of Bremerhaven was the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, which affected volumes from April through September of last year. Between 30% and 37% of Zeebrugge's throughput comes from Japanese vehicle manufacturers. Toyota uses Zeebrugge as one of the ports on its northern rotation for vehicles from Japan.
Last year Mazda also added the port of Zeebrugge as a transhipment port for vehicles transported from Japan to the UK, Spain, Portugal, and Scandinavia.
Challenges for both
BLG's achievement in moving the record amount of vehicles last year was not without its own challenges. Capacity shortage in all transport modes to and from Bremerhaven port is now an issue because investment has not kept pace with demand for infrastructure and transport equipment.
"We are experiencing a demand for more space at the port of Bremerhaven," said Stoever. "For exports, we need more storage space for vehicles prior to sailing, and for imports, we need more space for truck distribution to the dealerships. The problem is that the investment situation is more complex than it was before the 2008 economic downturn. Now, as a result of the previous downturn and the current euro crisis, banks are more cautious about loaning," he remarked.
As part of its solution, BLG Automobile Logistics continues to invest in rail wagons; it had 800 at the end of last year and its target is 1,400 by the end of 2013.
On the other hand, Stoever pointed out that China's exports of Japanese-brand vehicles, such as the Jazz model from Guangzhou Honda to Europe, are slowing down.
Among the port of Zeebrugge's challenges is its need for stronger rail connections, particularly from eastern and southern Germany, which are shipping more export vehicles. The port built a new quay wall last year that increased its total length by 1.4 kilometres. The port's managing director, Joachim Coens, said that it could accommodate four more vessels-two large ones and two smaller ones. Furthermore, in April it plans to open a shunt road connecting the outer port to the inner port, which Coens anticipates will reduce delays and damages to vehicle shipments.
The port of Zeebrugge's main trends include intra-European growth such as short sea shipments to Spain and Russia. Transhipments represent 30% of its throughput. The port is also experiencing growth in Far East trade such as exports from Germany to China, the Middle East, and Mexico. "Overall, we are hoping for an volume increase in 2012, but not by much," said Coens.
An in-depth report and listings of the top vehicle ports in Europe will be published in the April-June edition Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine.