US car revival boosts shipping exports image

The U.S. exported a record 1.8 million cars and light trucks last year, and shipments rose another 8.9 % in the first 10 months of 2013, Commerce Department data show. Because the U.S. imports about twice as many cars as it sends overseas, more outbound shipments also help shipping companies fill up their carriers on return trips.

American carmakers are expanding sales overseas as the industry rebounds from the worst downturn since the Great Depression and after government bailouts for GM and Chrysler. Ford said this month it would sell Mustangs in 110 countries, the most in the car’s almost 50-year history. Foreign manufacturers such as BMW are also increasing exports from U.S. plants.

“It’s another signal that the U.S. auto industry is out of firefighting mode,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting an LMC Automotive, a research company in Troy, Michigan. “There is an opportunity and an expectation for the shipping industry to see more activity out of this region.”

U.S.-made cars bound for global markets typically are carried by truck or train to a port such as Baltimore, the largest transit point for vehicles, where they’re wrapped for protection from sea salt and loaded onto ships. The U.S. exports account for about 4 % of world trade, according to Clarkson Plc, the largest shipbroker.

U.S. production of passenger cars and commercial vehicles jumped 19 % to 10.3 million vehicles in 2012, the highest since 2007. Ford is poised to earn a record profit in North America this year, and GM’s earnings in the region surged 28 % during this year’s third quarter.

Foreign carmakers also are increasing exports from the U.S. BMW, based in Munich, ships about 800 cars a day overseas, or 70 % of its U.S. production, making it the country’s biggest car exporter by value. The BMW factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which opened in 1994, was the first international auto plant in the U.S. designed for world markets.

Via Bloomberg