Here's Why It's Taking So Long To Get Cars Shipped Across The Ocean

Illustration for article titled Here's Why It's Taking So Long To Get Cars Shipped Across The Ocean
Photo: Kolforn / Wikimedia Commons (Other)

My Suzuki Every kei van is going to be loaded into one of the many ships responsible for shipping thousands of cars around the world in one go. But it took far longer than expected due to the world’s shipping ports being busier than they can handle.

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My Honda Beat awaits in Washington State for me to give it a big hug and load it onto a trailer. Its trip across the Pacific Ocean went off without a hitch aboard the roll-on-roll-off vehicle carrier ship Figaro. It left Japan and arrived in Washington right on time. Now all I have to do is pick it up with Chicago’s cheapest Volkswagen Touareg.

My Suzuki Every, on the other hand, is taking far longer. I finally got a solid booking for the ship that will be carrying it and the paperwork that I need to file to warn Customs of my impending kei van invasion.

Illustration for article titled Here's Why It's Taking So Long To Get Cars Shipped Across The Ocean
Photo: Japan Car Direct

The export company that I’m working with for the import of my Suzuki, Japan Car Direct, attributes the delay to the blockage in the Suez Canal, the pandemic and shipments from China making an extremely busy shipping season even worse. Let’s break down these factors.

The pandemic changed the way that people shop. Instead of going out to the local shops to buy goods, people are buying them online. This has led a surge in shipping across the board from postal couriers and Amazon to ocean shipping. Companies that imported goods from China were seeing a bottleneck because manufacturing facilities were shuttered, Quartz reports. Now, with manufacturing facilities back open and demand soaring, competition to get goods on a ship and across the ocean is fierce. As the New York Times reports, demand is outstripping the capacity for global shipping to keep up. Shipping experts are alarmed, from the Times:

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of Global Ocean Network at A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company. “All the links in the supply chain are stretched. The ships, the trucks, the warehouses.”

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But what does cheap goods from China have to do with cars? Japan Car Direct told me that China is also exporting so many new vehicles overseas that there just isn’t much space on ships for little used cars from Japan like my van.

Illustration for article titled Here's Why It's Taking So Long To Get Cars Shipped Across The Ocean
Photo: Japan Car Direct
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Then the ‘Ever Given’ got stuck in the Suez Canal, throwing a wrench into an already overloaded system. Now, ships are piling up at port faster than they can be processed and the shipping backlog is so huge that companies are getting crafty and using airfreight and rail transportation where possible.

In the case of my little Suzuki Every, it took nearly a month just for a shipping company to accept a booking. Then the van ended up missing the boat because there simply wasn’t any room for it. Now, a month after that fiasco, my van finally has a spot on a ship.

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It sets sail on the Höegh Trapper on May 19. That’s the giant roll-on-roll-off vessel up at top. Then, hopefully, about a month later I get to pick it up in Baltimore, Maryland.

What this also means is that I now have the documentation that I need to make sure Customs is happy. When the forms are accepted, you’ll get to read exactly how I did it!

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Let this be a warning. If you want to buy a car from Japan right now, you may have to wait even longer than you expect.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik and learning pilot. Smart Fortwo (x4), Honda Beat, Suzuki Every, AmTran Bus, VW Jetta TDI (x2), VW Touareg, Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Triumph Tiger, Genuine Stella...

DISCUSSION

lewschiller
Lew Schiller

Are you dealing directly with US Customs or are you using an agent? I ask because I’m preparing for one from the UK. I’ve planned on using an agent on this side but if it’s easy peasy to deal direct no reason to incur the expense.