Port of Tacoma exports autos to Asia

A major auto manufacturer that has been importing vehicles through the Port of Tacoma since 1982 has recently changed directions and started exporting vehicles to Asia.

Although initial volumes are small, Mitsubishi Motors is exporting Eclipse sports cars through the Port to China and South Korea. The vehicles are built at Mitsubishi’s manufacturing plant in Normal, Ill., transported by rail to the Port of Tacoma’s Marshall Avenue Auto Facility and then loaded to Wallenius Wilhelmsen Line auto ships.

Randy Casebolt, Manager of National Port Operations for Mitsubishi Motors North America, said his company expects to export about 400 vehicles through Tacoma during its current fiscal year, which ends Mar. 31. About 500 units are projected for the following year.

Those numbers compare to about 170,000 vehicles a year handled through the Port of Tacoma. Mitsubishi, like the Port’s other auto manufacturer customers, uses Auto Warehousing Co. in Tacoma for auto processing.

Casebolt said the Eclipses are loaded onto rail cars at Mitsubishi’s distribution center near Normal, hauled by Norfolk Southern to Kansas City and then transferred to Union Pacific for the trip to Tacoma. “What it really comes down to is cost,” Casebolt said of Mitsubishi’s decision to export through Tacoma. “We get better rates on the rail movement to Tacoma.”

Casebolt added that Mitsubishi has always had a good relationship with both the Port of Tacoma and Auto Warehousing Co. “Tacoma has been a very positive port for us to operate out of,” he said. “They are very accommodating, customer oriented, and we have a great relationship with them both on the import and the export side.”

Elmaleh said the Port is happy to have the business. “We are fortunate that Wallenius Wilhelmsen calls here in Tacoma and that Mitsubishi already uses Auto Warehousing,” he said, noting that most major ocean shipping lines that carry autos call Tacoma. “This unusual export arrangement came together very well for the Port.”