Marine Transportaion Auto Logistics Drive Port Activity

Two trends within the automobile import trade are driving port activity levels. The emergence of a small number of niche ports that specialize in handling vehicles and perhaps a few other commodities. Another trend is whereby manufacturers have tended to concentrate the bulk of their operation in fewer ports, although some ports such as Halifax and to some extent Vancouver have found it possible to accommodate several manufacturers.

While all car importers require access to at least some terminal space to handle automobile imports, there are several variations in the ways in which individual automobile importers organize the ways in which the logistics functions, and in the policy response of port authorities and the demand for terminal space.

At a minimum, an automobile importer requires on-terminal ‘surge space” during discharge operations, and space to handle inspections and customs clearance. However, depending on how the outward distribution of imports is organized, the importer may also require space on or near the terminal for additional processing operations, such as fitting accessories, modifying vehicles for the local market, storage, minor repairs, quality inspection and so on. An automobile importer may conduct these activities in-house or contract with a third party to provide these services.

Canadian Marine Auto Terminals

Halifax and Vancouver are epicenters of import vehicle logistics activity and rely on a highly effective short line, and transcontinental rail network to serve the Canadian market. Car carriers, marine terminal operators, railways and auto transloading facilities are adapting to changing production and distribution patterns. While the automobile market in North America has ticked upward since the depths of the 2008 recession, Vancouver witnessed a decline in light vehicle traffic levels. In comparison, Halifax has experienced robust growth. The September 2016 article in BC Shipping News further explores the winds of change that are buffeting the finished vehicle logistics industry that drives port activity.


Within Canada, the synergetic relationship displayed at the ports of Halifax and Vancouver are the result of a logistic partnership that includes the Class 1 railways and local short line railway to deliver the vehicles to customers. It remains to be seen whether future trade deals will result in future vehicle export opportunities for Halifax and the Port of Vancouver, but it is evident that healthy commercial relationships and partnerships at the local level help marine auto logistics drive port activity.

The full article that appeared in BC Shipping News.