Associated British Ports (ABP) moved 1.3m finished vehicles through its port facilities in the Humber and Southampton last year, with a surge in volumes recorded in Q4.

The port operator has invested in additional capacity and digital infrastructure to stay on top of larger volume deliveries. It also purchased Solent Gateway and is developing Marchwood port for future automotive operations.


At the ports of Immingham and Grimsby on the Humber estuary in northeast England ABP recorded 800,000 vehicles processed through 2023, with 85% of those imported.

At the port of Southampton, meanwhile, ABP moved 500,000 vehicles, 58% of which were exports. As indicated by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), in the last quarter of 2023 the there was a strong uplift in vehicle exports from the UK, helping domestic manufacturing grow by almost 40%. ABP said handled increased volumes through Q4 and successfully managed them through close collaboration with its partners and customers, ensuring that volume arrived at the ports in a timely manner to meet with export vessels. “We had to show flexibility in terms of provision of space/land, berths and labour to load vessels,” said a spokesperson for ABP.

Less frequent, higher volumes
As in the rest of Europe, vehicle terminal capacity is being tested by a number of factors. ABP said it had noted two trends through 2023: a reduced number of ro-ro vessels calling at the ports, down 10% on vessel calls in 2022, according to ABP; but a larger volume of vehicles being loaded or discharged per vessel.

Despite this higher volume of vehicles per vessel and the higher dwell time on the terminal ABP said it had avoided congestion in Southampton, Immingham and Grimsby and was able to accommodate all planned vessels.

Another trend noted by the port operator that is shared by other European ports is the rise in containerised car shipments.

“We have also seen an increase in the number of vehicles arriving in containers, which we have been able to support,” said the company. “We can accommodate the world’s largest container vessels in Southampton and have the necessary devanning facilities available.”

The port said that with regard to import flows, it needed to ensure there was sufficient capacity and facilities available to support the volume arriving in containers as well as ro-ro and it was working closely with partners to ensure that they can provide the required truck capacity to transport vehicles from the port and to their end destination.

Investments in capacity and computing
In terms of additional capacity, last year ABP bought the freehold on 112 hectares of land at Stallingborough Interchange, near the ports of Immingham and Grimsby. The company said the acquisition of Stallingborough, together with developments at Grimsby Automotive Terminal, will increase the capacity of the Humber to handle vehicles by 50%. The site will be used for commercial port opportunities including automotive, bulk warehousing, distribution and logistics.

ABP is also investing in Southampton. “We purchased Solent Gateway last year which already had plans to develop the site for automotive opportunities,” said the spokesperson. “ABP Solent Gateway operates Marchwood Military Port, which is a [103 hectare] site with multimodal port capacity. The development of the first [8.5 hectares] for automotive operations starts in March and will be completed in September.

ABP has also been investing in new digital infrastructure since 2022 across the port of Southampton to improve connectivity and efficiency for operations. According to the company the project included the installation of the Britain’s first private 5G system in combination with a smart Automotive Terminal Management System. That has enabled 5G high-speed private network connectivity across the port estate and the ability to get real-time information on vehicle status, condition and location for manufacturers. It also enables vehicles arriving at port to automatically download information on vehicle owner, home address and local maps. And supports identification of planning resource needs and availability of space. Finally, the digital network provides full synchronisation with HMRC’s inventory linking system.

Read more about developments at the European finished-vehicle handling ports in our spring edition of Automotive Logistics magazine, which is published in March.

Maritime logistics will also be under discussion at the forthcoming Automotive Logistics and Supply Chain Europe conference, which takes between March 19-21 in Bonn, Germany