Port getting Hyundai for 47,000 cars a year

Imports will add 30 jobs at Amports, the auto processor

Closing in on No. 2

February 15, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Hyundai Motor America said yesterday that it will begin shipping thousands of cars through the port of Baltimore instead of New Jersey, making it the second major auto manufacturer this month to commit to shifting a portion of its business from competing ports on the East Coast.

The agreement will bring about 47,000 Hyundai cars to Baltimore annually and create about 30 jobs at Amports, the port of Baltimore's largest automobile processing company. The business is worth $3 million to $5 million annually for the company, which cleans and adds accessories to cars before they are shipped to dealerships throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Amports plans to invest about $6.1 million in its Chesapeake and Atlantic auto terminals to accommodate the additional business.

"We're very excited about bringing Hyundai to town; these auto companies don't change ports lightly," said Douglas W. Tipton, president and chief executive officer of Amports, a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated British Ports Holdings.

The contract fits with the Maryland Port Administration's plan to attract autos and other niche cargo to offset a slide in containerized cargo. The strategic plan was adopted in 1996 as the port was struggling to reverse a decade-long decline in business as cities such as Norfolk, Va., and New York began to capture larger shares of the market.

While competition for containers favors ports located closer to the open ocean, Baltimore's inland location is considered an advantage for auto shippers because, among other things, it places the cars closer to dealerships. Industry experts say cars are less likely to be damaged during transit on ships than on trains and trucks.

The Hyundai account comes to Baltimore at the expense of the port of New York/New Jersey, which industry analysts say is becoming increasingly crowded and expensive for shippers of cars. On Feb. 6, Ford Motor Co. announced that it was moving a portion of its export business from Wilmington, Del., to Baltimore in an effort to take advantage of cheaper rail transportation. The account will bring about 27,000 Fords to the city annually. In a separate deal, Honda agreed last year to begin moving 70,000 cars and trucks through Baltimore annually. Those vehicles are built in the United Kingdom and shipped to the East Coast.

"We don't care where we get the cargo from as long as it's moving through the state of Maryland," said James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which operates the port's public marine terminals. Amports owns and operates the Chesapeake and Atlantic terminals, but also leases space from the state-owned Dundalk Marine Terminal.

When it comes to handling automobiles, Baltimore ranks third behind the ports of New York/New Jersey and Jacksonville, Fla., respectively. Those ports both handle more than 500,000 vehicles annually, while Baltimore handles a little less than 300,000.

With the addition of the Ford, Hyundai and Honda accounts, White said, "I think this time next year we'll be sitting in the No. 2 position."

Space will come at a premium as the port's auto terminals fill to capacity. White said expanding the port's facilities is among the state's priorities, but competition for dollars will be tough this year as lawmakers deal with a tight budget.

"There are properties we are looking at to acquire in the future so that we can develop it and accommodate the growth," White said.

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