Slowdown in auto trade at Baltimore might offer advantages

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

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTIf you live on the Eastern Seaboard and you are driving an imported car, odds are good that it entered the United States via the Port of Baltimore.
Since becoming the port of entry for the first Volkswagen Beetle in 1963, the Port of Baltimore has been delivering top-rate automobile service and handling capabilities to a wide host of automakers such as imports and exports for Chrysler, Hyundai, Kia, Susuki, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover. Today, Baltimore consistently ranks among the nation’s top automobile ports.
According to James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration (MPA), last year Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), one of the world’s largest providers of outbound logistics for manufacturers of finished vehicles, had its best year at the Port of Baltimore. The company, which also operates one of the world’s largest roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) carrier fleets, currently runs terminal operations and inland distribution management at Dundalk Terminal for autos, agricultural and construction machinery, and project cargo.
With the worldwide economic slow down, coupled with auto sales being among some of the worst on record in recent years, this picture for everyone has changed dramatically. Now automobiles are the port’s worst commodity group, White says.
“Compared to last year, I believe that our automobile numbers are off about 52%,” White reveals. “What is really sad is if you go back to 2007, we had our best year ever.”
That year the port handled over 600,000 vehicles. For 2008, it finished at about 500,000. “This year we are tracking a little over 300,000 vehicles,” he comments.
The news is not all bad. In fact, when the port was at its height in the automobile trade, reports circulated that automobile processors and logistics operators found themselves unable to handle all the business coming into the Port of Baltimore, meaning some business had to spill over to other locations.
John Griffin, Chrysler’s manager for International Port Operations, was reported saying in MPA’s own “The Port of Baltimore” magazine that its international volumes increased so much during 2007 that they had to expand its exporting operations to a second location in Baltimore. This meant they were not only operating out of the port’s Amports Atlantic Terminal, but also using ATC.
In addition, he stated in the article how Chrysler viewed Baltimore as its primary shipping location, but had to use other ports as “pressure relief valves” for overflow. Among them were the Port of Brunswick, GA, and Jacksonville, FL.
Jonathan Spampinato, a WWL spokesman, WWL also reports to AJOT that WWL was reaching a severe capacity shortage that impacted some other cargo segments and markets. At the height of Baltimore’s vehicle trade in 2007, WWL opened an expanded vehicle-processing center at Baltimore’s 570-acre Dundalk Marine Terminal where it has 150 acres for terminal operations and inland distribution management for auto, agricultural and construction machinery and project cargo.
Dundalk, itself, is a 13-berth terminal that handles containers, ro/ro, automobile and breakbulk cargoes. In addition to WWL, other vehicle processors operating there include Amports, BDS Port Services and Pasha Automotive.
“Coming into 2008, there was a shortage of capacity of up to 20-30% in some trades,” Spampinato continues.
MPA’s White has admitted to the media that land for ro/ro operations currently is the port’s biggest constraint.
“We’re not strained on the vessel side,” he said.
The problem is having enough land to accommodate all of the freight. Although shipments are now down (he did not say by how much for WWL), Spampinato points to a silver lining that is coming out of this current economic crisis. “While the auto industry has certainly slowed down due to a dramatic drop in consumer spending, we are now able to serve these other cargo segments and markets,” he says. “In general our customer

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American Journal of Transportation