One of the Southeast region's biggest attractions for automakers is its large ports that facilitate trade in finished vehicles and components for domestic assembly plants.
But one big vulnerability is that those ports lie right in the target zone for Atlantic hurricanes. And as the frequency and intensity of storms increase because of warming oceans, automakers and transport providers are taking extra precautions to ensure continuity of operations and prevent damage to finished vehicles.
The only auto terminal directly affected last week by Hurricane Florence was at the Port of Charleston, S.C., the primary load center for BMW exports and parts arriving from Germany for its plant in Spartanburg, S.C. All vehicles on the dock were loaded last week on two roll-on/roll-off vessels that departed ahead of the storm for Europe and China.
Getting freight off the docks before bad weather arrives is a top priority for port authorities, terminal operators and manufacturers alike.
"Preparation and coordination with tenants on what to do with the cargo and closely following your hurricane plan and Coast Guard directives days ahead" of landfall are very important, said Nancy Rubin, spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Port Authority in Florida, as are meeting with customers and law enforcement about how to bounce back after the storm.
Logistics experts say port operators and users have learned from experience how to minimize damage and disruption.
Automakers, for their part, hold vehicles at the plant if a storm is headed their way.
Railroads divert trains to yards outside the hurricane zone to protect their equipment and cargo. If vehicles are sitting on the dock, and no vessel is scheduled to arrive in time, logistics service providers try to induce an ocean carrier in the vicinity to make an unscheduled stop and clear out the inventory, said William Kerrigan, vice president of auto logistics at terminal operator SSA Marine, of Seattle.