RoRo shipping the new sea freight carrier ‘golden goose’

Roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ships are designed to carry wheeled cargo, such as cars, trucks, buses, railroad cars, excavators and industrial vehicles and in this niche sector freight rates are increasing, with some routes fully booked four months out, which means if you have a wheeled cargo to move, you will book today for April 2023 sailings on some lanes!

There are different types of RoRo vessels, including ferries, cruise-ferries, pure car carrier (PCC) and pure car/truck carrier (PCTC) that transport new automobiles, trucks and large industrial vehicles, and it is the latter two that are enjoying unparalleled demand.

Car carrier charter rates have risen to new records, with rates more than doubling, which comes after seven years of weak rates and around 25 vessels scrapped early. RoRo carriers and vessel owners are now enjoying tremendous rates, which are being driven by demand for car exports and investment in construction, mining and agriculture. 

Many of the vessels in this market also carry ‘high and heavy’ cargo and out of gauge commodities needing specialist handling. Putting the sector under further pressure with current demand in a restricted market of supply.

The Ukraine war is pushing countries towards food security, which means  there is more investment in agricultural machinery, the global mining equipment market is set to grow 40% by 2030 and now that semi-conductor supply chains are operating again, the supply of finished vehicles for export has boomed. 

Six months ago a flurry of RoRo vessel orders took the car carrier order book to 77 vessels (which equated to about 10% of the global car carrier fleet), but with these vessels due for delivery from 2024 onward, they will do nothing to alleviate the current situation, which is fuelling a fresh round of RoRo construction orders, that are unlikely to fill the vessel shortfall, which could be as much as a 100 by 2024. 

The RoRo market is in crisis. Rates on the spot market are increasing, but they are meaningless, because there is no capacity available with the scheduled carriers, of which there are only five main global carriers. 

Demand is high – and increasing – and any available capacity is all taken by a limited number of big customers (FMC, Toyota, Stellantis, VAG etc) with huge volumes and even though supply will increase in two years, it will be outstripped by demand.

The primary issue for the auto industry is they can now make the product but can’t get the vehicles to the point of sale by RoRo and every market is seemingly effected, including the USA, Australia, South Africa and India, with thousands of cars stuck on quay waiting for RoRo availability that will not come, or being held at inland compounds and depots awaiting transfer to the necessary ports to handle these products, it is reported in the industry trade press.

The good news for auto manufacturers is that there is a solution to their shipping headache, which is as competitive or can be even cheaper than RoRo. Shipping finished vehicles in a container.

With consumer demand for general products falling, in the wake of global inflation and rising interest rates, container shipping volumes have slumped, along with rates, creating a massive new opportunity for RoRo shippers of finished vehicles and industrial machines that can be broken down to containerise as at least it can be shipped on a  weekly container vessel.

Lack of RoRo capacity, new build vessels entering commission into the sector, and increasing rates means that containerising cars is becoming a very attractive alternative to transport vehicles on long haul lanes effectively and efficiently.

Metro has specialised in the automotive and construction vehicle sectors for over four decades. Working with many of the most respected and established global brands, our specialist teams coordinate the end to end movement of vehicles and machinery around the world, regardless of origin or destination.

Long-standing partnerships and volume agreements with the leading container shipping lines means we can offer the widest choice of services, routes and solutions for finished car and KDV movements.

To learn more, or to discuss our automotive capability, EMAIL Matt Weight now. We have the latest options and alternatives available in a dynamic market, that sometimes goes unnoticed. Matt awaits your call!