Baltimore bridge collapse has automakers scrambling at nation's biggest port for cars

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has disrupted shipping at one of the largest ports in the country — and the busiest U.S. port for car shipments. The Port of Baltimore handled at least 847,000 vehicles in 2023.

Rescuers have pulled out two survivors, one of whom remains hospitalized, and were searching for more in the Patapsco River after huge spans of the 1.6-mile (2.57 km) Francis Scott Key Bridge crumpled into the water. 

Motor vehicles and parts accounted for 42% of all Baltimore port imports, according to data from the Maryland Port Administration, and automakers Tuesday were working out the latest kinks in their supply chains. General Motors and Ford said it will reroute affected shipments after the bridge collapse cut off the Port of Baltimore from the ocean. 

“We expect the situation to have minimal impact to our operations. We are working to re-route any vehicle shipments to other ports,” GM said in a statement. 

Ford Motor Chief Financial Officer John Lawler said on Tuesday the bridge collapse, which happened after a container ship smashed into the four-lane bridge early on Tuesday. “It’s going to have an impact,” Lawler told Bloomberg News. “We’ll have to divert parts to other ports … It will probably lengthen the supply chain a bit.” Ford told Reuters in a separate statement “where workarounds are necessary in the short term, our team has already secured shipping alternatives.” 

Volkswagen Group of America said its operations in Baltimore are not impacted because its Baltimore facility is located on the easterly seaboard from the bridge collapse. That would also apply to VW Group luxury brands Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.

The port also handles imports and exports for Nissan, Toyota, Volvo, and Jaguar Land Rover. 

The Baltimore port handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any U.S. port for the 13th straight year, according to a state of Maryland website. It is also the largest U.S. port for imports of agricultural and construction machinery.

Beyond automakers with facilities in the port, companies such as Amazon, FedEx and Under Armor receive shipments there, Bloomberg reports. Apart from cars, 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo passed through the port in 2023, worth more than $80 billion, according to the state of Maryland. The port also handled large volumes of imported sugar, gypsum and coffee, and is the nation’s second-largest for exporting coal. It is, however, not a large port in terms of containerized shipping. There is also a cruise ship terminal there that handled 444,000 passengers last year.

At least 40 vessels are trapped in the port, in waters to the west of the collapsed bridge, according to marine traffic data, raising a question of how easily they’ll be able to get out. About half of them are tugs but there are also bulk carriers, at least one vehicle carrier and a small tanker.

The data showed that 30 ships had been inbound before the collapse, and 10 are at anchor, presumably awaiting instructions.

Contains Reuters, Bloomberg and AP.

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