Motor vehicle exports from Tennessee have more than doubled since 2000 with the automotive industry emerging as perhaps the state's largest export sector, a new study shows.

Vehicles accounted for 8.5 percent of all state exports in 2014, up from 3.6 percent in 2000, according to the Middle Tennessee State University study.

"Much of this growth is rather recent," said Dr. Steven Livingston, a research associate at MTSU's Business and Economic Research Center. "The value of the state's vehicle exports has virtually doubled in the past two years. The growth in exports of motor vehicles has far outpaced overall Tennessee export growth."

Vehicles valued at $2.8 billion shipped outside of the country last year, the study shows.

some text A vehicle comes through a wash down at the new energy efficient paint plant Nissan Smyrna plant Wednesday, April 17, 2013 in Smyrna, TN. (Sanford Myers / The Tennessean)

At the same time, the value of auto parts which were sent abroad stood at nearly $7.5 billion in 2014, according to the MTSU report.

"This means that only a bit more than one-third of all automotive-related exports are the vehicles themselves," Livingston said.

Tennessee has three auto assembly plants with Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Nissan in Smyrna and General Motors in Spring Hill, but it has more than 900 parts suppliers.

Parts exports have grown dramatically from just $2 billion in 2000 to near the $7.5 billion mark last year, the MTSU study said.

In terms of cars, Nissan North America exports hit a historic production mark of 1 million vehicles in January, according to the company. That car was made in Smyrna and destined for sale in South Korea. Nissan also makes vehicles in Canton, Miss.

"To have achieved 1 million units of exports proves that we are making attractive and globally competitive products," said John Martin, the company's senior vice president for manufacturing, supply chain management and purchasing, in a statement. "Quite simply, it shows how well-designed, well-built cars are appreciated universally by all customers, no matter where they live and buy the product."

Nissan's U.S. exports last year rose by 29 percent to more than 129,000 vehicles, which is a record, the company reported. Nissan produced 947,558 vehicles in the U.S. in 2014. Nissan exports to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Volkswagen of America spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the Chattanooga-made Passat is exported to Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Middle East. The number of Passat exports last year wasn't immediately available, but she said the figure is counted in Chattanooga production numbers.

"That's sourcing for other markets," Ginivan said. VW's Chattanooga plant opened in 2011.

Tennessee is the seventh-ranked state for car exports nationally, up from 11th in 2000, the study showed. The state exported just $400 million in vehicles in 2000 compared to the $2.8 billion figure in 2014.

Other key Tennessee export sectors are medical and computer equipment, basic chemicals and synthetic fibers and filaments, according to the study.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.