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Germany

Europe's Biggest Car Terminal Bursting at the Seams

Europe's biggest car terminal is bursting at the seams as unsold cars pile up, mirroring the dramatic situation in the automobile industry.

Cars waiting to be shipped out of the Bremehaven car terminal in northern Germany

More than 90,000 cars, trucks and vans are gathering dust in Bremerhaven

More than 90,000 vehicles are clogging the shipping terminal in the north German port of Bremerhaven, waiting to find new owners. Detthold Aden, head of the BLG Logistics Group, which administers the facility said they can't move the cars, work on them or deliver them until they find buyers.

Roll-on roll-off vessels delivering new cars or loading them up for export have always been a welcome sight in the bustling port. That is not the case for the nine large car carriers tied up this weekend. The vessels are bringing cars that nobody wants. Instead of setting a turnover record, the terminal is rapidly becoming one of the world's biggest parking lots.

Japanese family cars compete for the few remaining spaces available with Korean sports utility vehicles, German sports cars, delivery vans and even combined harvesters and bulldozers. Normally there are between 60,000 and 80,000 vehicles in the terminal at any given time. Some for as little as several hours, others for up to a month.

In two adjacent technical centers, newly imported vehicles are cleaned and polished, or given a "haircut and shave," as the workers jokingly say. Other models are fitted with special parts.

Changing times

Close up of the Toyota insignia

many of the cars waiting are Asian imports which were on their way to Germany before the crisis hit the auto industry

It was less than year ago that the terminal set a turnover record of two million vehicles for a 12-month period. There were cars from Asia, from factories in Germany or from the plants of German carmakers overseas.

"Now we're on course for 2.2 million new vehicles," said Ralf Nagel, the senator in charge of the region's economic development, just five months ago.

Some 1.08 million vehicles passed through the terminal in the first six months of this year, 9.3 percent more than in the corresponding period of 2007. But the economic crisis has brought activity almost to a standstill. When cars roll off ships like the Danube Highway or Morning Champion, they come to a halt after just a few meters because there is no room for them on land.

BLG has been forced to find extra space in the area of the port normally reserved for shipping containers. Other cars are temporarily stored on freight trains. Ships normally jam-packed with vehicles destined for the United States are now leaving almost empty because of the dramatic downturn on the US car market.

Reaching capacity

Containers stacked up at the terminal in Bremerhaven

The Bremerhaven terminal is the largest in Europe

The speed of the meltdown caught Bremerhaven by surprise. When automobile manufactures published details of their shrinking sales, many of the cars now languishing in the port were already on their way to Germany.

"It's a difficult situation, because many imported cars and those destined for export are still on their way here" said Aden.

The terminal and its surrounding area have a maximum capacity of around 100,000 vehicles. This figure could be reached at the end of the year, Ader said. After that the storage situation might ease because many car firms have slashed production.

"We anticipate a 25 percent reduction in the number of vehicles transiting Bremerhaven in the first quarter of 2009," said Ader.

He added he is optimistic the car market will start to improve from the second quarter and "should be back to normal by the end of the year."

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