BMW to ship more cars through Baltimore

One-fifth of all BMWs sold in U.S. to come through port in 2010 under new contract

December 17, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | liz.kay@baltsun.com

Starting in 2010, about a fifth of all BMWs sold in the United States will travel through the port of Baltimore, a company spokesman said.

The luxury carmaker has entered into a five-year agreement to ship about 50,000 vehicles annually through the port's Fairfield and Masonville auto terminals to Midwestern customers. Those cars now travel through the Port of Charleston in South Carolina.

The 50,000 additional cars represent a 12 percent increase in auto shipping traffic over current volumes said James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

"That's going to add additional jobs and man-hours," he said.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, about 400,000 autos passed through the port of Baltimore, down about a third from the previous year.

White said that the port had been working for more than two years to attract BMW to Baltimore. "These types of contractual obligations by a major automobile manufacturer don't happen overnight," he said. "They have to be worked."

He credited the port of Baltimore's "total quality" program that he said addresses the needs of manufacturers. "A lot of big manufacturers want to be in our port because they know product is going to be handled professionally," he said.

BMW North America has been considering ways to streamline its shipping operations for several years, said Tom Kowaleski, the company's vice president of corporate communications.

"Baltimore affords us the opportunity to be more efficient," he said.

BMW vehicles destined for dealerships in nine or 10 Midwestern states have been shipped to South Carolina, processed at a BMW facility in Spartanburg, S.C., then taken by rail or truck to their final destinations.

In the future they will be prepped for shipment to dealers with the addition of protective coatings and audio components at a Mercedes-Benz processing facility at the Baltimore port's auto terminals.

"Mercedes won the business because they're a luxury business as well," Kowaleski said, and thus have experience working with high-end products.

Moving the processing operation to the port of Baltimore will reduce both shipping time to Midwestern customers and costs for BMW, Kowaleski said.

It also made sense because BMW is doubling the size of its plant in Spartanburg by putting in a new assembly hall to build BMW X3 luxury SUVs. As a result, "the space we had to do prep of vehicles also went away," he said.

More than two-thirds of BMW vehicles are shipped from overseas, Kowaleski said. Last year, BMW sold 240,000 vehicles within the United States.

As a premium brand, BMW wants to stimulate more custom orders, Kowaleski said. "You can have your car from us any way you want it," he said. This move reduces the amount of time between a Midwestern customer's placing an order and his or her driving it off the lot.

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