Mobile: Ala. sees big export potential
A joint venture between Argentine and Chilean port services companies has begun site preparation for a new auto facility at the Port of Mobile, in Alabama.
Port Director Jimmy Lyons said the facility, part of a long-term concession agreement with the Alabama State Port Authority, will have annual capacity for about 160,000 vehicles.
The $60 million project, expected to be completed in June 2020, involves converting 60 acres of an idle bulk-material handling facility. Crews are demolishing cargo equipment such as conveyors and ship loaders and will start tearing down old structures in January, he said.
Federal and regional grants will cover about $41 million of the cost.
- New terminal to be completed June 2020
The project is a speculative venture, with no automaker yet committed to use the port. Even if there are any customers, the facility's size and location mean it will only be a niche market, said Bill Kerrigan, vice president of logistics at SSA Marine's auto division.
Lyons said he's confident marketing efforts will land customers interested in importing and exporting finished vehicles. Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Honda have assembly plants in Alabama, and there is a big Kia factory only three hours away, just across the border in Georgia.
The auto terminal is expected to open about the same time as a new Toyota-Mazda joint production facility in Huntsville, Ala.
A number of other plants are within competitive reach of Mobile, either by truck or rail, including the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.; Toyota's plant in Blue Springs, Miss.; and Volkswagen in Chattanooga.
Lyons said he envisions the port capturing some northbound flow from Mexico with a short-sea shuttle taking models built in Alabama south in return.
Other export opportunities are possible, he added, since car carriers already call the port two to three times per month bringing giant windmill components from Asia and could easily pick up more vehicles on their way to northern Europe and ports of origin.
The port's extensive rail connections, including with Canadian National and Norfolk Southern, are also an advantage, he said.
So far, logistics experts say, there hasn't been enough two-way business for ocean carriers to offer dedicated shuttles between Mexican and U.S. Gulf ports. Currently, vessel operators serve Mexico by adding port calls to existing international routes.
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