Georgia seaports handled a record number of automobiles in 2023 while container trade dropped 16%

FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2015 file photo, new automobiles being shipped through the Port of Brunswick sit in a vast parking lot at the Colonel's Island terminal in Brunswick, Ga. The Georgia Ports Authority says it handled a record number of automobiles on its docks last year. The state agency reported Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 that more than 775,000 autos and heavy machinery units moved through the Port of Brunswick in the 2023 calendar year. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP, file)
FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2015 file photo, new automobiles being shipped through the Port of Brunswick sit in a vast parking lot at the Colonel's Island terminal in Brunswick, Ga. The Georgia Ports Authority says it handled a record number of automobiles on its docks last year. The state agency reported Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 that more than 775,000 autos and heavy machinery units moved through the Port of Brunswick in the 2023 calendar year. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP, file)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The Georgia Ports Authority said Tuesday that it moved a record number of automobiles across its docks in Brunswick last year, while goods shipped to Savannah in cargo containers declined 16%.

The Port of Brunswick rolled more than 775,000 autos and heavy machinery units on and off ships in the 2023 calendar year, when U.S. auto sales saw their biggest increase in more than a decade. That is the port's highest ever auto and machinery total and an increase of more than 15% over the previous year.

The news comes as port authority CEO Griff Lynch has set a goal of Brunswick surpassing the Port of Baltimore as the No. 1 U.S. port for automobile imports and exports. The Georgia agency is investing $262 million in upgrades and expansions to make room for growth at the Brunswick port, located about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.

“We have been investing in Brunswick. We've been creating capacity in Brunswick,” Lynch said in an interview, adding that more growth is possible in 2024. “Autos are strong. I mean, the economy will drive the autos, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. But right now, they’re strong.”

Auto shipments into Georgia boomed last year as sales surged amid pent-up demand following a computer chip shortage that slowed assembly lines.

Georgia's push to become a Southern hub for electric vehicle production is expected to send more autos across Brunswick's docks in the coming years. Hyundai is building its first U.S. plant dedicated to EVs west of Savannah, while electric truck maker Rivian is constructing a factory east of Atlanta. Kia last summer announced an expansion of its plant in West Point to manufacture electric SUVs.

Meanwhile, the Port of Savannah saw a notable dip in cargo shipped in containers, the giant metal boxes used to pack retail goods from consumer electronics to frozen chickens. Savannah is the fourth-busiest U.S. seaport for containerized cargo, behind only New York, Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.

Savannah handled 4.9 million container units of imports and exports last year, down 16% compared with calendar 2022. Lynch said retailers ordered less inventory as inflation and higher interest rates cooled consumer spending.

That could be changing. Savannah's container numbers for January are on track to outpace the same month last year, and Lynch said he anticipates that trend will continue in the coming months.

“I fully believe that when we look at February and March and April, we should see some positive numbers year-over-year,” Lynch said. “The numbers are stronger than we anticipated.”


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