India’s ports are looking to build dedicated terminals for ships that ferry cars and roll-on roll-off, or Ro-Ro, vessels to cater to the increasing demand for export of cars as more global auto makers set up factories in the country to produce cars for both the local and export markets.
The latest to join the bandwagon is Ennore Port Ltd in Tamil Nadu. The port, India’s first major corporate port and owned by the Union government, plans to set up a dedicated terminal to meet the demand from car makers located in and around Chennai.
Ro-Ro ships are designed to carry wheeled cargo such as automobiles, trailers or railroad cars. Ro-Ro vessels have built-in ramps which allow the cargo to be efficiently “rolled on” and “rolled off” the vessel at ports.
New automobiles that are transported by ships around the world are often moved on large Ro-Ro ships called pure car carriers (PCCs), or pure car, and truck carriers (PCTCs). Such ships are currently operated by Japanese shipping firms NYK Line, K Line and Mitsui OSK Lines.
Ro-Ro ships are also called combi-vessels because they can carry automobiles as well as general cargo.
“There is a big demand from car manufacturers such as Nissan and Renault in Chennai for export of cars through Ennore Port. We plan to set up a dedicated car terminal to facilitate their exports,” said A. Rajagopalan, director (operations), Ennore Port.
French car maker Renault SA and its affiliate Nissan Motor Co. Ltd (Renault owns 44% of Nissan) are in the process of setting up a factory jointly in Oragadam outside Chennai to make 400,000 vehicles with an investment of Rs4,000 crore.
The planned car terminal at Ennore port will have a capacity to handle 200,000 cars a year. The berth will have a depth of 12m, enabling ships with a capacity to load 5,000 cars to call at the port, Rajagopalan said. The terminal will be constructed and operated by the port.
The Union government-owned Mumbai Port also plans to set up exclusive berths for ships that ferry cars and Ro-Ro ships in a bid to strengthen its stature as a hub for automobile exports on the country’s western coast, its chairperson Rani Jadhav had said earlier.
In the 12 months to March 2007, Mumbai Port handled 197 PCCs and Ro-Ro ships that accounted for 87,000 vehicles exported by auto makers such as Tata Motors Ltd, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, Ashok Leyland Ltd and Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, Jadhav said. The port currently handles an average of 16-17 PCCs and Ro-Ro ships a month.
Jawaharlal Nehru Port, India’s busiest container port, which is just seven nautical miles ahead of Mumbai Port on the same shipping channel, is also eyeing the automobile export business. “JN Port will also develop something in the near future to cater to automobile exports,” its chairman S.S. Hussain had said earlier.
Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone Ltd, promoted by the Adani Group, also plans to set up a dedicated terminal for car exports, said a company official.
The move will give a fillip to global automobile firms, which are making cars, buses and trucks in India, where labour costs are low, and using it as a manufacturing hub for overseas markets. Besides Hyundai Motor India Ltd (HMIL), which is the largest exporter of fully built passenger cars out of India, local auto makers such as Ashok Leyland and Tata Motors, too, are expanding their exports. Almost 250,000 passenger cars and commercial vehicles were exported in fiscal 2007, according to industry body, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.
Chennai Port, also owned by the Union government and just 24km away from Ennore Port, is currently India’s biggest port in terms of car exports. Chennai operates a dedicated car terminal that predominantly handles exports of HMIL, the Indian unit of South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. Swedish truck maker AB Volvo also exports trucks, manufactured at its factory on the outskirts of Bangalore, through the terminal at Chennai Port.
Hyundai Motor had signed an agreement with Chennai Port in early 2007 to export cars at concessional rates. The company exported 115,525 units in 2006-07, and aims to increase this figure to 250,000 units by 2009. The company has been focusing on making India an export hub for small cars. For instance, it plans to export half of its targeted sales of 230,000 units of the i10 model in 2008.
Apart from Hyundai Motor, Chennai is also home to the manufacturing facilities of Ford Motor Co. and BMW AG.