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SAIC and BYD set sail for export growth

Chinese car-makers SAIC, BYD launch their own ships as global export push accelerates

29 Jan 2024

MG AND LDV parent company SAIC Motor Corporation has hit the high seas with one of the world’s largest roll-on-roll-off (ro-ro) vehicle carrying ships, which will be primarily used for exports to Australasia and Europe.


With a capacity of up to 7600 cars, the vessel – named SAIC Anji Shencheng – is powered by liquid natural gas (LNG) and low-sulphur fuel oil claimed to reduce emissions by 30 per cent which, according to SAIC, makes it the world’s “largest in-service clean energy ro-ro ship”.


SAIC Anji Shencheng set sail within days of another vessel called BYD Explorer No. 1, which as the name suggests exists to export the products of another Chinese car-making giant.


Like SAIC’s ship, the BYD boat uses emissions-reducing LNG fuel and is primarily destined for exports to Europe but unlike SAIC and contrary to BYD’s reputation for vertical integration the BYD vessel is exclusively leased, rather than owned, by the car-maker and is operated by third-party company Zodiac Maritime. It is also slightly smaller, with a capacity of 7000 vehicles.


Announcements about neither ship mention whether they include special measures to address the risk of fires caused by thermal runaway malfunctions in lithium-ion battery packs that are notoriously difficult to extinguish and are suspected to have caused or contributed to an intense blaze aboard the Felicity Ace in February 2022, resulting in it sinking.


Chinese car brands are hoping to achieve a similar level of market penetration as Australia – vehicles sourced from the country represented almost one in six sold here last year, overtaking South Korea to place third after Japan and Thailand – but addressing a population that is almost 30 times larger.


BYD Explorer No. 1 is said to be the first Chinese-made ship designed for the export of vehicles. It was built by the Yantai CIMC Raffles shipyard, while the SAIC Anji Shencheng – built by China State Shipbuilding Corp – was not far behind.


SAIC Anji Logistics, which operates the SAIC Anji Shencheng vessel, is claimed to have “established the largest self-operated fleet of car-carrying ships in China”.


Among the fleet are “31 types of car-carrying vessels, and has opened seven self-operated international routes to South East Asia, Mexico, the western coast of South America, and Europe”.


SAIC Anji Logistics plans to add a further 14 such ships to its fleet, with a view to “accelerating the overseas expansion of independent Chinese brands”.


Announcing the maiden voyage of BYD Explorer No. 1 on Chinese social media platform Wechat, CMIC said the vessel’s launch marks the beginning of the era of self-transport of domestic cars and will effectively ensure BYD's rapid delivery and expansion of overseas markets”.


China is thought to have overtaken Japan as the world’s largest vehicle exporter in 2023 and BYD overtook Tesla in the final quarter of the year to become the biggest manufacturer of battery electric vehicles by volume.


In terms of overall sales regardless of propulsion method, SAIC claims to have exported a record 1.21 million vehicles and maintained the conglomerate’s position as top domestic vehicle exporter for eight consecutive years.


Chery, which relaunched in Australia last April, is also reportedly developing its own shipping fleet. The brand claims to be China’s biggest passenger vehicle exporter, with “almost a million cars shipped around the world in 2023”.


Global shipping delays, pricing instability and the rise of Chinese vehicle exports have encouraged increasing numbers of auto-makers to exclusively lease or commission their own ships.


Last August Ford Australia leased the Grand Quest carrier – with a 2600-vehicle capacity – from Polaris Autoliners for a three-year term to help address long waits for Thai-built Ranger and Everest models.


In July 2021, MG filled the entire manifest of Primrose Ace, operated by Japanese company Mitsui OSK Lines, with 4800 cars destined for Australia – the first time the brand had occupied an entire ship for exports to this market.


Growth of MG volume since then means the brand would have needed more than 12 such ships to satisfy Australian demand in 2023 while SAIC stablemate LDV could have filled more than four Primrose Aces.



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