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European ports turned into car parks as EV makers hunt buyers

New cars wait to be transported on a dockyard in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges.
New cars wait to be transported on a dockyard in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Copyright Haven van Antwerpen-Brugge/Port of Antwerp-Bruges
Copyright Haven van Antwerpen-Brugge/Port of Antwerp-Bruges
By Doloresz Katanich
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Sales of electric cars in Europe are relatively low, but it is just one reason why the vehicles are piling up in Europe's major ports.

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A growing number of imported electric cars, many of them from China, are stuck at the ports of Europe as manufacturers and distributors struggle with a slowdown in sales. 

The ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge in Belgium are reportedly flooded with EVs from China, however, the port told Euronews that it is not only Chinese vehicles which are involved. But they did not disclose any other exporter countries contributing to the problem. 

However, Le Monde reported that at Calloo, near Antwerp, and Zeebrugge, the huge parking lots to accommodate 130,000 freshly shipped vehicles, are cramped now with Chinese models, including MG, BYD, Nio, XPeng, Lynk & Co, Omoda, Hongqi, among others. 

Chinese EVs are targeted to benefit from European market trends, including state aid in several countries which aims to encourage buyers to opt for electric vehicles.

While European efforts are aiming at supporting their car manufacturing industry, vehicle exports to the continent from China are still flooding in, and reached 1.3 million in the first quarter of this year, up 33% compared to a year ago, according to the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG), with a large majority being EVs. 

The top European destination for Chinese carmakers was Belgium in February, where reportedly the EVs are piling up spectacularly, turning the ports into car parks. 

"This is what is happening in all European ports that handle large numbers of cars," said a spokesperson on behalf of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, the second largest port in Europe.

The port received overall slightly fewer than 1.7 million cars last year, which was still below the 1.95 million they had encountered in 2019. 

According to Le Monde, citing forecasts by port managers, this year the overall number of vehicles coming from China could reach between 600,000 to 1 million landing in Antwerp-Bruges in 2024.

Relatively low car sales in Europe

There have been reports about a slowdown in car sales in Europe, which is one of the main reasons why cars shipped to Europe are getting stuck in a bottleneck at the ports. 

According to the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, another factor causing the problem is the lower road haulage capacity for cars and a shortage of delivery drivers, as well as lower capacity available for short sea shipping of cars within Europe. 

Anonymous sources say that in some instances, there are cars that have been parked at the port for more than a year. 

ICO, which is responsible for the handling and storage of shipped vehicles at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges did not immediately respond to questions from Euronews. 

The Financial Times, which first reported the congestion in European ports, puts the problem down to the fact that Chinese models are shipped to Europe without a sales network on the continent or onward transportation. Consequently, Chinese models were not sold in Europe as fast as was expected.

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