Louisiana auto industry braces for disruption with Port of Baltimore closure

Workers start to remove a section of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

The collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge last week has resulted in the indefinite closure of the Port of Baltimore—the busiest port in the U.S. for car shipments.

According to the state of Maryland, the port handled nearly 850,000 cars and light trucks in 2023, and motor vehicles and parts accounted for 42% of the port’s total imports.

The port’s closure seems likely to disrupt the supply chains of many major automakers. Already, big players like Ford and General Motors have begun rerouting shipments to other ports.

So, how will south Louisiana auto dealerships be affected?

According to Nick Pentas, general manager and co-owner of Mercedes-Benz of Baton Rouge, rerouting shipments to other ports will naturally lead to higher congestion at those ports, resulting in delays.

“I think the collapse is definitely going to tighten up supply for the next couple of months,” Pentas says.

Mercedes-Benz of Baton Rouge receives its vehicles from the Port of Brunswick in Georgia, so Pentas does not foresee any huge issues for his dealership—unless a large portion of those rerouted shipments get sent to the Port of Brunswick, that is.

“The collapse could affect us if they reroute the ships to Georgia,” Pentas says. “This isn’t going to affect production, but it’s going to affect the logistics of getting vehicles to their end-users.”

Matt McKay, president and CEO of All Star Automotive Group, says it’s simply too early to tell what impact the collapse will have on his dealerships or on the U.S. auto sector as a whole.

“The reality is we don’t really know yet,” McKay says. “It’s kind of a moving target right now.”

McKay does expect at least some amount of disruption, though the scale of that disruption may depend entirely on how long it takes for the port to resume normal operations.

“We don’t know all of the implications yet, but there’s going to be some impact,” McKay says. “It’ll be hard to forecast until we understand what the damage is. We’re watching it very closely.”