CALIFORNIA PORTS 2008 - Reluctant car buyers put brakes on Hueneme

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

The ongoing slump in the US economy and the reluctance by US consumers to buy a new car or truck has led to a significant downturn in automobile and truck imports at one America’s largest West Coast autoports, Port Hueneme.
As the only deep water harbor between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay, area Port Hueneme has become one of the busiest seaports in California and has worked to develop two major niche markets: the import and export of automobiles, heavy agricultural equipment and industrial vehicles, fresh fruit (particularly bananas), fresh produce, forest products, and project cargo.
Pete Wallace, deputy executive director of maritime services for the port blames the economy for the slump in automobile traffic: “We are down on volumes this year and it looks like it’s not going to be a good next couple of years.”
“We’re probably about nine percent down on our auto business,” he said.
In recent years the port has handled about 254,000 vehicles, most of which have been imports.
However, Wallace said Hyundai Kia is up about 20% in their volumes and BMW is up about four percent. But, all the others have been down on their numbers so far this year.
One good piece of news on the auto side of the ledger however, was a contract signed late last year with General Motors Corp. to import and export 20,000 vehicles through the port. Included is the European-built Saturn Astra. Overall, about 10,000 vehicles will be Saturns imported from Germany and American-made Cadillacs and Chevrolet Trailblazers will be exported through the port to Asian buyers.
The other major piece of business for the port is fresh fruit and while it would be nice to say that this sector has made up for the slump in automobiles, the Port of Hueneme lost a major customer earlier this year. Wallace said the customer decided to move from reefer vessels to containerized cargo.
This decision, he said, cost the port about 30% of its banana business.
“This particular customer was coming out of Ecuador,” he said. “His volume significantly decreased and, because of that, his volume was not enough to sustain a reefer vessel.”
Because of this shift this piece of business moved to the Port of Los Angeles.
However, market share at Chiquita Brands International and Del Monte Foods, two of the port’s largest fresh fruit customers appears to be on the increase, he said.
In addition to reefer and ro/ro businesses, the port also serves a variety of unique project cargoes such as high and heavy cargoes and Wallace said this business appear to be “holding pretty good right now.”
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American Journal of Transportation