Car carriers are, like their peers in containers and LNG, enjoying record rates this year, having accelerated very fast from the nadir experienced at the start of the pandemic.
From a low of $10,000 a day in mid-2020, the guideline one-year charter rate for a 6,500 ceu car carrier soared to an all-time high of $55,000 per day last month, according to data from Clarksons Research Services. By comparison, it took over six years for rates to climb from $20,000 a day to over $50,000 a day in the 2002 to 2008 boom.
Changing trade patterns have had a major impact, Clarksons noted in its most recent weekly report. Chinese exports, for instance, surged to a record 1.6m units in 2021, up by 104% year-on-year, with much of the growth in long-haul, peak-leg exports to Europe.
Furthermore, larger and heavier electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, which take up more deck space, are in greater demand from increasingly green conscious customers. The average petrol vehicle imported into the EU, for example, weighs around 1.2 tonnes versus around two tonnes for a plug-in hybrid.
Clarksons looked into other reasons for today’s car carrier rally, many of which are pandemic-related.
“A range of factors from labour shortages at ports and difficulties with crew changes to abrupt changes in output from car plants in different regions and shifting trade patterns have all combined to soak up vessel capacity,” Clarksons pointed out, noting that 29% of the car carrier fleet capacity was listed as at port at the start of this month, up by almost a third from the pre-Covid (2016-19) average of around 23%.
Like the booming LNG and container sectors, improved markets and sentiment have sparked a resurgence in car carrier newbuilding interest. 52 ships of around 380,000 ceu – all LNG capable – have now been ordered since start-2021, up from just 20 ships across the period from 2016 to 2020.