The port of San Diego received more than 1,000 Volkswagen Beetles and Jettas at its National City Marine Terminal at the beginning of August as part of a regular service between Mexico, the US and transpacific markets operated by Siem Car Carriers.

Volkswagen is seeing strong US sales and is looking at the option of using short-sea as opposed to exclusively using rail or road. According to Pasha Automotive Services, which is processing the vehicles at the terminal, the short-sea leg between Mexico and the US offers a good competitive alternative to rail shipments in the face of increased sales in the US and the threatened shortage of rail wagons (railcars) needed to meet the demand.

The port of San Diego is the first point of entry into the US for ships coming from the Pacific side from Mexico, Central and South America. Produced at VW’s Puebla facility, the VWs were shipped from Acapulco in Mexico. The delivery contributes to a 22% increase in regular vehicle deliveries to the port in the last fiscal year and, according to Pasha, this underscores the increase in domestic and export cars sales.

Stan Gabara, Pasha's executive vice president of automotive and logistics said the regularly scheduled service means that both the port and Pasha can offer “new and creative logistical solutions” to the auto transport industry and its customers regardless of volume.
"With the auto industry poised for a comeback and more automotive manufacturing in North America, it is anticipated there will be a shortage for rail cars," Gabara said. "Short sea shipping is a proven transportation method. Siem Car Carriers offers competitive rates from Mexico to the US."

As was discussed at the Finished Vehicle Logistics North America conference in May this year, rail wagon shortages are  now common, especially for growing exports from Mexico, and there are fears that the vehicle logistics industry could fall behind or even limit the sales recovery anticipated.

While truck capacity is an on-going concern, there appeared to be even more worry over rail wagon shortages at the conference and companies are now focusing on alternative options, such as short sea. VW Group, which will add an Audi factory to Mexico by 2016, already moves vehicles between Mexico and the US on vessels which move on a rotation to and from Europe, as well as by rail, and VW of America’s Jörg Schnackenberg suggested that rail shortages could lead to more short sea, although he admitted that Mexican ports might also struggle with capacity. GM’s head of global logistics, Christine Krathwohl, also called for more short sea between the US and Mexico (read more here).

Siem Car Carriers is calling approximately every 18 days at the port using five new pure car truck carrier (PCTC) vessels on the transpacific route. Each vessel completes the roundtrip transpacific journey, which in all takes in Mexico, the US West Coast, China, Russia, Korea and Japan, in around nine weeks.

Pasha stated that in the past it has handled and chartered vessels to transport automobiles through National City for several vehicle manufacturers, including Honda, Chrysler, Volkswagen and General Motors.

"What is different today is that SCC (Siem), with its regular service rotation without the need to ‘backhaul empty’ to Mexico, is more cost effective and competitive," Gabara said. Another reason is the ship's capability compared with trucks and the railroad.

"There are capacity constraints today in both rail and truck," Gabara said. "It's cost-effective, considering that you might not be able to quickly obtain the nearly 60 railcars needed for a shipment of this size."

Stuart McMillan, the port captain for Siem Car Carriers, said 1,008 cars were delivered to the Port's National City terminal on the first voyage.

The Volkswagens that arrived aboard the CSVA Rio Blanco were shipped from Acapulco. The vessel then headed for National City and later to the Port of Grays Harbor in Washington, where Pasha also operates. From Grays Harbor, the ship makes the 14-day trip to Vladivostok, Russia, then to South Korea for one port visit, and China and Japan for stops at three ports in each country and then back to Mexico.

Siem Car Carriers’ transpacific shipping service focuses on the transport of cars, high and heavy cargo and other types of cargoes. Its parent company, Siem Shipping, operates more than 80 other types of vessels worldwide.

Pasha Automotive Services processes about 400,000 per year year.