Charleston the ‘sole export facility’ for U.S.-made BMWs

Charleston Post and Courier
Allyson Bird
January 13, 2010

While the Port of Charleston continues to lose its BMW import traffic to other points of entry, it remains the primary export site for the luxury automobiles and keeps growing.

Most recently, Höegh Autoliners, an international vehicle transportation operator, added the Port of Charleston to its Middle East service and will load BMWs made at the German company’s plant in Greer.

The new contract begins Jan. 29 with the ship Höegh Bangkok.

The service will bring two ships a month to the State Ports Authority’s Union Pier Terminal and should move more than 5,000 vehicles a year that it previously moved through a competing South Atlantic port, according to the State Ports Authority.

The Middle East service reaches from Mediterranean port to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and India.

Höegh Autoliners is owned by a Norwegian company and Denmark-based A.P. Moller-Maersk.

Nearly two years ago, BMW began shifting its imports away from Charleston when it moved a portion of the business to Brunswick, Ga. Then, last month, the Port of Baltimore announced that it would handle 50,000 import cars annually that previously came through the Port of Charleston.

After moving about 56,00 imported BMWs in the most recent fiscal year, Charleston will handle only about 10,000 imports now, according to officials with the carmaker. That takes exports down to one-tenth of their 2007 level.

New Jersey-based BMW business communications manager Jan Ehlen attributed the shift to streamlining logistics. He also said that, while losing its role in handling imports, Charleston will export at least 100,000 Upstate-made cars this year.

“Charleston is, has been and will be the sole export facility for all of our vehicles being produced in the U.S.,” Ehlen said.

SPA officials, under new Chief Executive Officer Jim Newsome, hope to expand BMW’s car-shipping operations, perhaps by moving some of that business from Union Pier in downtown Charleston. The most likely option would relocate the auto operation to the port’s North Charleston Terminal and refocus that facility away from containerized cargo.

Speaking before the Charleston Women in International Trade group Tuesday, Newsome listed the Höegh deal among recent port accomplishments and said “moving the North Charleston Terminal to a multi-use direction” is among the goals for the new year.

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