By Todd Karpovich | Photography by Bill McAllen
The Port of Baltimore prides itself on being the nation’s No. 1 point of entry for automobiles.
Its strategic location, infrastructure and customer service have been catalysts for long-term relationships within the industry. The automobile industry has helped Baltimore become one of the nation’s busiest ports and one of Maryland’s leading economic engines.
“I believe a major factor in the POB’s continued success are the relationships we have with our partners in the auto business,” said Larry Johnson, Sales Manager of Trade Development, Automotive at the Port. “From the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], processors, ocean carriers and the stevedores, there is almost a fellowship of working toward the goal of damage-free, smooth loading an d discharging of the ships.
The ILA [International Longshoremen’s Association] is such an important component of the goal of a damage-free work environment here. They have an experienced and conscientious workforce. The OEMs know their cars are in good hands at the Port of Baltimore.”
For eight consecutive years, the Port has handled more cars and light trucks than any other U.S. port, with 850,147 units.
Concentrating more specifically on the state-owned marine terminals, a record 636,575 cars and light trucks crossed the public docks last year, including a record 442,838 imports.
Most of the Port’s auto-manufacturing customers had volume increases in 2018, especially Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Subaru. Chrysler imports were also strong. The Port’s exotic OEM customers, such as Lamborghini, McLaren and Aston Martin, all had increased volumes as well. The Port’s healthy used-car export market to Africa was strong again.
Total 2018 U.S. auto sales were 17.3 million, with light trucks and SUVs accounting for 65 percent of the market.
“The Port of Baltimore is an ideal port for an auto manufacturer due to its competitive rail connectivity to the Midwest and reliably strong serviceability among our ocean carrier base,” said Paul Roosen, Network Planning & Strategy, North American Vehicle Logistics for Ford Motor Co.
Baltimore’s advantages as an auto port are many. For imports, Baltimore’s location as the closest East Coast port to the Midwest allows cars to be shipped to inland destinations in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. The same geographic advantage also helps with export autos coming from the Midwest.
The Port offers auto manufacturers choices, with four on-dock auto processors, a large number of haul-away trucking companies and all major ocean carriers.
“When a port has multiple ocean carriers and multiple port processors, it allows General Motors to have options, which could allow vehicles to ship in a timely manner to our end customers,” said Rick Duncan, Supervisor of Intercontinental and Port Operations for GM Logistics.
With its unique quality assurance program, Quality Cargo Handling Action Team, or QCHAT, the Port guarantees that each auto leaving or arriving receives top-notch handling. With these benefits in its back pocket, it’s easy to see why Baltimore continues to have great success with the auto industry.
“The Port of Baltimore is probably the most efficient and effective port Auto Warehousing operates in,” said Marty Colbeck, Director of East Coast Sales for Auto Warehousing Company (AWC). “From its director Jim White to the entire support staff, Baltimore is quick to respond to any questions or issues that may arise. The fact that the Port takes pride in facilitating a quality initiative, including the processors, stevedores and customers, establishes a benchmark that other ports are trying to match.”
AWC accepts both import and export cargo at the Port. “We have been awarded the processor of the year three years in a row by Toyota Motors. We could not have done that without the support of the Port of Baltimore,” Colbeck said. “AWC is proud to have two separate operations at the Port and looks forward to working together for many more years to come.”
The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) announced plans in June to renovate an unused fruit pier for suitable storage space for the increasing number of automobiles and other cargo arriving at the Port. The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $4.6 million contract with Cianbro Corp. of Baltimore to raise the elevation of the pier to match that of adjacent terminals and to grade and resurface the parcel for cargo storage.
The extra land is a key component for success. It allows the companies around the Port the flexibility to expand. Last year, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a contract to fill in a wet basin at the Port’s Fairfield Marine Terminal. This will create more land to help handle the Port’s surging auto and roll-on/roll-off cargo.
Filling in the wet basin will create seven acres of cargo storage area. This contract will complete the overall project by raising the elevation and adding a new storm drainage system, finished surfacing, lighting, fencing and a security booth.
In addition, AMPORTS acquired 60 acres of land next to its Chesapeake Terminal with plans for an additional pier extension to accommodate incoming autos and for extra storage space.
“The new wet basin, approximately seven acres at the foot of Childs Street, has been added to the footprint of the Fairfield Terminal,” Johnson said. “And AMPORTS is about 90 percent finished with improving the Sasol lot adjacent to the Chesapeake Terminal.”
The project also includes the installation of three surface sand filters to treat stormwater runoff and a stone retaining wall along the southern and eastern shores of the site.
Earlier this year, Volkswagen Group of America announced plans to start importing new vehicles through Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point, which would add 100 jobs to the area. The new Volkswagen distribution center could bring in about 120,000 cars per year. Tradepoint is being viewed as an effective outlet for the continued growth in auto imports at Fairfield/Masonville and Dundalk marine terminals.
In 2014, the MDOT MPA opened a new auto berth at the Port’s Fairfield/Masonville Marine Terminal. The new berth replaced one that had been in operation for more than 70 years. At 1,175 feet in length, it is nearly 300 feet longer than the old berth and 20 feet wider at 130 feet. The new berth can support 1,000 pounds per square inch compared to the previous 100 pounds per square inch and is equipped to handle rail transport.
“The Port of Baltimore is the number one auto port in the nation and continues to break cargo records every month,” said Gov. Hogan. “Our administration is committed to furthering this growth and strongly supports our great Port and its thousands of hardworking men and women handling the millions of tons of cargo coming in throughout the year.”