Mitsui O.S.K. Line, known in shipping circles simply as MOL, is adding to its routes -- including one that touches the Port of Tacoma -- to reflect new realities in the auto business.
The Japanese shipping line, which made its fortune hauling Japanese-made cars from Japan to the U.S. and other countries, announced this month it will soon begin bringing cars by sea to U.S. West Coast ports from Mexican manufacturing plants. Among those ports is Tacoma.
MOL said its new route will begin in the Mexican West Coast port of Lazaro Cardenas and call on San Diego and Richmond in California, Portland and Tacoma. In Canada, the new service will call on New Westminster, B.C., near Vancouver.
At the Port of Tacoma, spokeswoman Tara Mattina said MOL hasn't yet firmed up arrangements for the new routes.
Manufacturers Mazda and Ford are reportedly two of the manufacturers talking with MOL about using their service, she said.
Mazda already imports autos from Japan through the Port of Tacoma. Korean carmaker Kia also imports vehicles to Tacoma.
Auto Warehousing Co., a Tacoma-based auto import processing company with operations in 28 ports, would likely handle any new imports at the port.
Mexico is poised this year to become the second-largest auto exporting country to the United States, surpassing Japan. Next year, Mexico is expected to become the largest source of imported vehicles in the United States, topping Canada for that honor.
When the North American Free Trade Agreement was approved 20 years ago, Mexico was building just six percent of the vehicles built in North America. Now, nearly 20 percent of North American-built vehicles are produced in Mexico. The country will produce some three million vehicles this year.
The reason for the rise in Mexican vehicle production is mainly economic. Auto workers in Mexico make in a day about what union auto workers make in an hour in the U.S.
General Motors, Ford, Mazda and Honda have all built new final assembly plants in Mexico.