Volvo plans to drop Baltimore as a port of entry for its cars, but despite that loss, car traffic through the port remains healthy.
William A. Kroh, head of two sister companies that handle the majority of the cars shipped through the port, confirmed yesterday the decision of Volvo to drop Baltimore. Volvo, which had been using 10 ports in North America, has decided to cut back to four.
On the East Coast, Volvo is dropping Portsmouth, Va., and Baltimore.
The company will continue to use Halifax, Nova Scotia, Newark, N.J., and Jacksonville, Fla.
Volvo had been bringing in about 15,000 cars a year through Dundalk Marine Terminal, a Volvo spokesman said yesterday.
Last year, the port handled 562,000 tons of vehicles, making Baltimore the leading car port on the East Coast and second only to Los Angeles in the nation, according to the Maryland Port Administration.
The Volvo decision does not mean Baltimore's competitiveness as a car port is slipping, according to Mr. Kroh.
"There's always some transition in this business," he said of the Volvo decision.
"It has to do with marketing, not the viability of the port."
The volume of cars handled here has remained steady in the past year despite the recession, he said. While imports are down, exports have just about made up the difference.
"Business has gotten much better in the last three months," Mr. Kroh said. "I'm pleased."
Michael Guerra, a spokesman for Volvo Cars of North America Corp., said that the reduction in ports was designed to give the company greater control over the quality of inspections performed before cars are shipped to dealers.
"It's not a reflection on Baltimore," he said.
Mr. Kroh is the head of Hobelmann Port Services Inc. and Crown Auto Processing Inc.
Together, the two companies handle about 70 percent of the car traffic in the port.
The second-biggest handler of cars in the port is the state-owned terminal operated by Toyota. During the first six months of this year, volume at the Toyota terminal was up almost 16 percent over the same period a year ago.
Baltimore's principal advantage as a car port is its proximity to the large consumer market of the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, Mr. Kroh said.
In addition, the port's longshoremen have a very good record of moving cars on and off the ships without damaging them.
"That's a real big factor," Mr. Kroh said.