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Chinese shipbuilders set sail in high gear amid growing demand

At a bustling coastal factory in Longkou City in east China’s Shandong Province, several giant ships at different stages of construction can be spotted, with workers toiling tirelessly to prepare them for their final delivery.

These ships, being built by Longkou CIMC Raffles Offshore Limited, will be used for transporting made-in-China automobiles to international markets.

Specifically designed for shipping cars, the “ro-ro” (roll-on/roll-off) auto carrier has become a much sought-after product due to rising orders partly driven by China’s robust auto exports.

Official data showed that China exported a total of 4.91 million vehicles in 2023, surpassing Japan to become the world’s top auto exporter. To meet the transport demands of auto exports, many Chinese carmakers have invested in building a fleet of automobile “ro-ro” carriers.

China boasts the most robust shipbuilding capabilities in the world, maintaining its global lead in 2023 with double-digit growth in output, new orders and orders in hand. Last year, approximately 82.7 percent of the global new orders for auto carriers were secured by China.

According to Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited, a major Chinese shipbuilder, orders for vehicle carrier vessels are fully booked until 2028.

“We have many orders to deliver now, and the production plan has been extended to the next few years,” said Liu Hao, project director of the automobile “ro-ro” carrier business at Longkou CIMC Raffles Offshore Limited.

As a manufacturer of offshore equipment, the company made a foray into the automobile “ro-ro” carrier business in 2021. After 15 months of manufacturing, it delivered its first product in January, which was later rented by leading Chinese new energy vehicle (NEV) maker BYD to serve its overseas sales.
BYD overtook Tesla to become the world’s top seller of electric vehicles last year. Its overseas sales of NEVs reached 243,000 units in 2023, skyrocketing 334.2 percent year on year.

SAIC Motor, another Chinese auto giant, flagged off its first “ro-ro” ship on Jan. 17, transporting Chinese-brand vehicles to Europe. The carmaker is expected to receive another auto carrier from Longkou CIMC Raffles Offshore Limited in May.

SAIC Anji Logistics Co., a logistics unit owned by SAIC Motor, has built a strong fleet of 31 self-operated car-carrying vessels. It has opened seven self-operated international routes, and over the next three years, 14 ocean-going transport ships will be added to its ocean-going fleet.

“Chinese carmakers’ race to buy or rent auto ‘ro-ro’ ships is a manifestation of the continuous development of China’s automobile industry and the accelerated pace of overseas expansion,” said Li Xiang, a think tank researcher with Harbin Institute of Technology.

Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association, noted that this move can keep exports smooth, reduce transportation costs and ensure the timely delivery of products to overseas customers.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Commerce and eight other government agencies unveiled a guideline to facilitate NEV exports, encouraging shipping enterprises to rationally increase the size of their “ro-ro” transport fleets, and make full use of innovative and flexible transport modes such as containers and pulp vessels.

Shipping enterprises are expected to increase the frequency of “ro-ro” ships and open up new routes for NEVs, and speed up the opening of a multi-port export passage for NEVs, the guideline added.

“The era of shipping made-in-China cars with one’s own fleet has arrived,” Cui said. “It will contribute to the sustainable development of China’s auto exports.”
Source: Xinhua

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