The movement of cars in and out of the Pacific Northwest revolves around the hub of imports and exports, the Port of Portland.
Long known as a leader of importation, newly released year-end reports show the Port of Portland is the West Coast leader of auto exports for the first time.
A Port representative said this is the first time it has been No. 1 according to data that goes back to 2003. In second place for exports is the Port of Long Beach in California.
In 2016, more than 50,000 exports moved through Portland.
"At the Port of Portland, we are really well-positioned to handle imports and exports. Logistics are seamless. There's room to grow and an experienced workforce is in place," said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port.
Combining imports and exports, a total of 291,000 vehicles rolled through the premiere auto terminal from domestic manufacturers to foreign markets. That's a 10.8 percent increase over 2015, and higher even than years past.
In 2012 the Port exported 284,138 auto units; 262,514 in 2013; 257,457 in 2014; and 262,874 in 2015.
The Portland harbor had 191 vessel calls from six different carriers in 2015, directly generated 559 auto operations jobs the same year, handles 280,000 autos per year and has moved more than 11 million vehicles since 1978.
Internationally in and out
Portland is the leading distribution hub for finished vehicle logistics in North America for a multitude of reasons including the Pacific Rim location, a balanced equipment flow and innovative vehicle processing facilities.
Because of Portland's prime freight location at the conjunction of the Willamette and Columbia rivers where railroads and interstates come together, the Port facilitates a steady flow of vehicles across the U.S. coming in and going out. The railways and truck use make the location optimal.
The foreign trade zone at Terminal 6 sets the Port of Portland apart, simplifying the flow of autos into the U.S., and to Mexico and Canada through the U.S.
The Port has been rolling cars for six decades to the midwest to key locations including Chicago and Minneapolis, and back from the eastern U.S. assembly line plants. It has a total of five rail ramps at its terminals, allowing rail companies to stack vehicles by the hundreds.
"With our proximity to Asia, Portland has become a leading auto distribution hub," said Keith Leavitt, the Port's chief commercial officer. "We've seen significant growth in exports since 2012 and expect that positive trend to continue in 2017."
American-made cars are shipped by rail from assembly plants to the Port's docks, where vehicles are driven on "ro-ro" ships (roll-on/roll-off) bound for China and other parts of the Far East. Imports including Hyundais, Toyotas and Hondas make their first stop in Portland before being shipped to dealerships across the region.
"Vehicle imports and exports provide more than 600 direct local jobs for dockworkers, processors and others working in distribution and transportation throughout the supply chain," Leavitt said. "Each vehicle imported brings an estimated economic benefit of $275 to the region."
Working at the Port
The Port handles more than finished vehicles: there are parts too, such as Subaru's U.S. distribution hub in Gresham.
An OEM, or an original equipment manufacturing company, makes a part or a subsystem used in another company's end product. Portland embodies the efficiency and balance OEMs need to improve the two-way equipment usage.
"Ships today bring thousands of vehicles, and if you take advantage of backhaul opportunities there are more and more OEMs, export vehicles from North America," said Sebastian Degens, Port of Portland director of marine marketing and marine terminal business development.
The well-trained auto workers handle vehicles will skill and care: if the VIN stamp isn't precise, China won't accept the vehicle. The work is highly specialized.
The Port has the land to address storage and the flexibly add new services in terminals, and its innovation propels the industry.
With that, the Port has been innovating — revamping docks, ramps and marine structures to accommodate large modern sea vessels.
Looking forward, The Port and tenant Auto Warehousing Company recently secured state grant funding for a $7 million expansion of auto handling facilities in the Rivergate Industrial District near Terminal 6. Plans call for AWC to develop a new, 18.9-acre storage and staging yard to support the continued growth of export vehicles.