Porsches sail into port

Imports: The first shipment of the German sports cars arrives at Dundalk Marine Terminal. About 15,000 cars are expected in the first year.

April 20, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

James Antkowiak's regular vehicle is a 1995 Dodge pickup. But yesterday, the Baltimore longshoreman started his workday in the contoured driver's seat of a $55,000 Porsche Boxster fresh off the boat from Germany.

"How many people get to drive Porsches, you know?" Antkowiak said, while the blue Boxster convertible purred in neutral. "When you're a little kid you think about cars like this, and then you get to drive them. It's fun."

The first of about 400 of the luxury sports cars rolled across the Dundalk Marine Terminal yesterday morning as part of a minimum two-year deal with the auto manufacturer that will give the port's vehicle import business an added measure of prestige. About 15,000 Porsches will come to the port in the first year, with the possibility of more in future years.

The Maryland Port Administration has made attracting automobile imports a key component of its plans to attract more cargo to the city's waterfront. In March, Porsche became the fourth auto manufacturer this year to sign a multiyear deal with vehicle processing companies in Baltimore. Port officials said they feel Porsche's name recognition will get the attention of other manufacturers.

"I think it sends a strong message to the automobile manufacturing industry about the quality here in the port," said James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the state's public marine terminals.

State transportation officials promote the spinoff jobs created by auto imports.

Work gangs from Local 333 of the International Longshoremen's Association drive the cars off specialized ships. After that, auto processing companies clean and accessorize the vehicles before they are delivered to dealerships throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Amports, a subsidiary of Associated British Ports and Baltimore's largest auto processor, won the Porsche contract.

Porsche moved its East Coast port business from Charleston, S.C., to Baltimore to take advantage of the port processing facilities at the water's edge. In Charleston, the vehicles had to be driven to an inland facility for processing, which increases the odds of damage during transit. Baltimore is closer to the manufacturer's customer base in the Northeast and Midwest.

"That was very, very attractive to us because you are so far inland," said Barry L. Long, logistics manager for Porsche in North America. "So we can actually distribute our vehicles to our customers faster by coming into Baltimore."

About 40 percent of Porsche's exports to North America will come ashore in Baltimore. The rest go to Brunswick, Ga., and San Diego. The company sends about 25,000 Boxster and 911 model sports cars to North America annually. Beginning next winter, the company expects to send 20,000 to 30,000 of its new sport utility vehicle, the Cayenne, to the United States each year.

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