Date: 02.08.2022

Europe’s vehicle ports still striving for sustainability

Europe’s primary automotive ports have been investing in ‘cleaner’ operations, alternative fuels and better port operation strategies, but their main challenge for the last year has been fluctuating volumes caused by the semiconductor shortage’s impact on vehicle production.

Manufacturers and OEMs have frequently stopped production to cope with supply chain disruption and containerised traffic has lacked reliability due to blank sailings, port closures in the Far East, equipment shortages and tight capacity, to name a few of the reasons.

Many automotive handling ports handled fewer RoRo vessels in 2020 and because vessels were running half-empty, overall volumes significantly diminished.

Car terminals followed the same trend in 2021, with lower volumes and unexpected peaks of production to be stored, rather than made ready for shipment.

The semiconductor shortage was the main and most damaging factor affecting new vehicle production, but shortages stretched across metals, rubbers and fabrics, where production has been disrupted, or where labour has been in short supply following pandemic-related protocols.

Accumulating vehicle stocks in European terminals, at different times, combined with a reduction in the number of ship calls caused sporadic complications, though most terminal operators were able to deal with them over time, using good programming and flow management. 

This capacity for adaptation and efficient management in the face of such variable market oscillations has seen the Spanish port of Vigo claim to be the country’s leader in new vehicle traffic.

The disruption to car production because of the microchip shortage was followed by a surge in demand and the efforts by carmakers to meet that demand increased the average cargo per vessel. 

Increased flows towards the Black Sea as a result of the supply to the area via the Baltic means that the vehicle handling terminal at the Greek port of Piraeus is at maximum capacity and storage areas full, despite the terminal operating at almost full capacity. Since the second half of 2021 there has been an increase of 51% in transhipment traffic. 

Despite the fluctuations in vehicle throughput, European ports have continued efforts to make operations more sustainable.

Zeebrugge has increased the number of electric vehicle (EV) makers using its facilities for import and export, investing in equipment to handle and charge EVs, while Antwerp despatches trains to 70 destinations in 19 countries every week.

Meanwhile Zeebrugge is working to increase rail connections in and out of the port, including an increase in frequency with Strasbourg rail hub for daily container services, that will also stop in adjacent Antwerp.

The ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp are in the final stages of a merger that will lead to a new combined operation under the name Port of Antwerp-Bruges.

Barcelona is also making a concerted sustainability effort and has new propulsion and power generation systems at the top of its agenda. It now has an LNG terminal fitted with a special berth for small scale operations, supported by an LNG bunker barge and the supply of LNG by truck.

Discounts on port dues are offered to vessels using LNG for propulsion or power generation and the same discounts are offered to vessels fitted with batteries, such as the new Grimaldi ships, which emit zero pollutants and zero CO2.

Vigo has expanded its capacity for finished vehicle handling by adding 70,000 sq.m that was previously under public concession alongside a new access control to the terminal to improve efficiency of throughput. 

The outlook for the ports in 2022 has been made uncertain by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is having an impact on the supply chain throughout Europe and Russia, closing ports, arresting delivery routes and hitting the supply of parts to car plants.

Higher oil and gas prices would increase inflation, but higher petrol prices are likely to increase demand for EVs – potentially adding to vehicle inventory pressure at the same time that supply and production are further disrupted.

Metro is a specialist in the automotive and construction vehicle sectors, working with leading brands, OEM’s and suppliers for over four decades. 

We coordinate the end-to-end movement of vehicles, machinery and parts, optimising complex inbound and outbound supply chain operations, by all modes of transport.

We maintain long-standing partnerships and volume agreements with the leading vehicle RoRo carriers and container shipping lines, which means we can offer the widest choice of services, routes and solutions.

Please contact Matthew Weight, our new Automotive Director, to discuss any aspect of the market or learn how we could transform your global supply chain.