Despite declining volumes at its car terminals in the past six months, the Port of Tyne, near Newcastle in the north of England, is keen to develop recently acquired land for the automotive industry.
“We have about 50 acres (20 hectares) to develop, and we want to look at it for the car sector,” said Alasdair Kerr, Assistant Commercial Manager for the port. “We’re looking at our options, between bringing in another OEM, a shipping line, or going it alone [to further develop the terminal].”
The port already has a dedicated terminal for Nissan on the South Tyne, mainly for overseas export from the nearby Sunderland plant. It also has a distribution centre for imports from the Volkswagen Group on the North Tyne, close to which it has also recently acquired the new land. The port has seen other marques processed through the port, mainly through third party business by Nissan’s separate shipping arm, NSA. While growth had been explosive prior to the economic downturn, growing from handling 300,000 cars in 2003 to 597,000 in 2007, last year saw the number drop to 540,000 as the financial crisis bit the fourth quarter, and is expected to be significantly lower this year.
The downturn has, temporarily at least, ended several of the finished vehicle rail services that the port has successfully developed in recent years. In September, a five-day-a-week STVA service was cancelled to the port’s automotive rail terminal. At the time the train was filled with pre-sold Honda’s from Portbury, distributed locally to dealers in the north. The port had also seen the movement of Ford Transit vans by the same train, and backloaded with Nissans. “It worked brilliantly, but unfortunately the market pulled the plug,” Mr. Kerr said. “We’ve since had another train of vans this year, and we’re hoping we can make this permanent again when the market is ready.”
For the moment, with volumes so low, the port is hoping to put itself in a position to capture future business, whether for rail services or to make permanent the third party business from NSA, which has included transhipment of Opel, Subaru and FAW, often arranged within just several days notice. Mr. Kerr also suggested that there is a possibility that another OEM could be calling the port home in the near future, but could give no further details at this time.
While Mr Kerr acknowledges that the port has yet to see many “green shoots” to suggest an uptick in volumes, the congestion of finished vehicles at the port has normalised in the past weeks following months of reduced Nissan production. At the one point, the port was overflowing with cars, and also saw a stockpile of inbound parts from Nissan parts still arriving for production even after it was cut. A return to low inventory levels suggests, hopefully, that production will soon be able to increase again.
In the meantime, the port has been able to avoid redundancies on the strength of other trades, such as coal imports from Russia and further afield, which now total more than 4m tonnes a year.