The busiest vehicle-handling ports in the US, Baltimore and Jacksonville, have reported gains in the first half of 2019, through higher import and export volumes. Baltimore has seen an increase of 8% compared with the same period last year, handling roughly 428,000 units between January and June. It reported record figures for March, with more than 59,000 vehicles processed, plus around 95,500 units of agricultural and construction equipment.
The latest figures continue the growth the port has seen over the last eight years. In 2018, Baltimore handled more than 850,000 vehicles, including both imports and exports – an increase of almost 43,000 and 5% more than it handled in 2017. It was a record for the port and put it in a secure lead as the busiest vehicle-handling port in the US for the eighth year in a row. (For more on North American ports, read Finished Vehicle Logistics’ 2019 report here.)
“We also saw volume increases from all of our major OEMs and had strong growth from our privately owned vehicle business to Africa,” a spokesperson for the port told Automotive Logistics.
Increased short-sea volumes to and from Mexico, and more imports from India have also helped to push up numbers at Baltimore. The recent announcement that terminal operator Tradepoint Atlantic will be adding Volkswagen traffic in 2020 will further strengthen the port’s vehicle-handling profile.
This summer the port is expected to benefit from the opening of a new seven-acre (28,300-metre) area that will be used for vehicle storage and processing. The port is also working with the state of Maryland and class-one North American rail provider CSX to secure funding for repairs to the Howard Street Tunnel. By expanding the 125-year-old rail tunnel, the port hopes to use it to move double-stack container trains and speed up freight traffic in and out of the port.
The only issue that is hanging over the growth of automotive shipments through Baltimore, it seems, is the threat of a 25% tariff on vehicle imports to the US, as outlined by the Trump Administration in its Section 232 investigation. Maritime trade analysts with Drewry have estimated that US vehicle imports from overseas markets could fall by nearly 15% by 2021 if the tariffs are imposed and there has been wide condemnation of this prospect by the automotive industry.
Baltimore figures for March 2019
• 59,052 vehicles (best March for cars and light trucks)
• 1,018,274 general cargo tons (most in a month)
• 95,862 20-foot containers (most in a month)
• 96,535 rolling farm and construction machinery cargo tons (most since June 2012)
Amports expands at Jacksonville
Meanwhile, the port of Jacksonville has moved around 356,500 vehicles in the first half of the year, a 6.4% increase on the same period last year.
Jaxport, the port authority, said that the port’s strategic location and quick access to US consumers was driving expansion in vehicle and container sectors. The port recently reached a long-term agreement with vehicle processor Amports to expand the company’s leasehold at Jaxport to a total of 170 acres. Amports leases property at the port’s Blount Island and Dames Point marine terminals, with plans to develop an additional 45 acres at Dames Point by 2023.
The port finished construction in December last year on the first phase of the Dames Point Auto Terminal. A spokesperson for Jaxport told Automotive Logistics that a number of growth factors were making the need for more space a priority, including “the continued strong US economy and the growing consumer base in the state of Florida and larger south-eastern US”.
“Additionally, the port’s proximity to OEMs’ south-eastern production facilities have led to healthy export volumes,” said the spokesperson.
Mexico is providing more business and now accounts for 18% of the port’s overall handling, but there are also deep-ocean routes opening up for Jaxport. Last year, Höegh Autoliners initiated a new trade lane linking Jaxport to Australia and New Zealand on a fortnightly basis, increasing export opportunities.
Port tenant SSA Atlantic is also set to break ground on a $238.7m state-of-the-art container terminal at the port’s Blount Island Marine Terminal and the federal project to deepen the Jacksonville shipping channel to 47 feet (4.4 metres) is ahead of schedule, with anticipated completion in 2023, based on continued funding from all partners.
Developments at Baltimore, Jacksonville and the other North American vehicle handling ports will be central to discussions at next month’s Finished Vehicle Logistics Import Export summit, which will once again be held in Baltimore.