Finished vehicle manufacturers using Spanish ports have noted a disparity between promised flexibility in handling and the reality on the ground. Indeed, recent meetings of the National Association of Car and Truck Manufacturers (ANFAC) have emphasised that problems with stevedoring persist and that little in the way of streamlining or cost reduction has been achieved at some ports. This is despite the fact that some stevedoring unions handling finished vehicles are making more positive sounds to the press, writes Barry Cross

Comparing the ports of Barcelona and Santander, it costs €30 ($40) to handle a car at the former, but only €15 at the latter, something which nobody seems able to adequately explain to manufacturers.

At Santander, negotiations between terminal operators and stevedores now mean that the latter are only responsible for the loading and unloading of finished vehicles from the vessels; all other movements are undertaken by the terminal operators themselves. In contrast, no such agreement has yet been reached at the port of Barcelona.

However, the difference in crucial. A stevedore can earn up to €100,000 in salary, while somebody employed by the terminal to move finished vehicles will be on a third of that figure. Clearly, these differences are manifested in the prices that different ports now have to charge for exactly the same operation.

Neither car manufacturers nor terminal operators doubt the professionalism of the stevedores, since in recent years they have been able to reduce significantly the amount of damage occurring on finished vehicles. What is in dispute is how much is being charged for this service and how such work is being assigned.

In some Spanish ports, at the moment, stevedores not only load and unload cars, they also undertake all movements of them within the vessel itself and also once they are on the dock, where they can then be driven for cleaning and afterwards stored in a vertical facility.

In the face of such intransigence, the Port of Barcelona has begun to lose competitiveness as certain manufacturers have started shipping consignments to either Tarragona or Sagunto. The rise of finished vehicle business at the latter port is nothing short of remarkable, in that a few years ago, it had none of this traffic at all. Despite the fact that Barcelona, currently, is the leading hub for auto traffic in Spain, this does not guarantee that such a leading position can be maintained forever.