Leading EV Maker Expands into Shipping Industry

Making the leap for independence, Chinese auto corporations, known for their prowess in exporting due to the booming electric vehicle (EV) sector, are now focusing on creating their own shipping enterprises.

Information about BYD’s intention of acquiring or leasing ships initially emerged in 2022 from shipping news source, Lloyd’s List. As 2022 came to an end, the company updated its business registration to include global cargo shipping and ship management. Although MIT Technology Review tried to get a statement from BYD, no reply was received prior to the article’s publication.

The RORO vessel, BYD Explorer No.1, was launched at the beginning of the current year. Even though the ship, which can transport 7,000 vehicles concurrently, is officially registered under the UK-based Zodiac Maritime, BYD has leased it for an unspecified time period. According to the company’s announcement, there are plans to add seven more vehicles to the fleet over the next two years. The company also stated that it would allow other companies to use their vessels for exporting goods.

The maiden journey of the ship includes transporting over 5,000 BYD cars, with the destination being the ports of Vlissingen in the Netherlands and Bremerhaven in Germany, as reported by Chinese media giant Xinhua.

However, BYD is not the only automaker from China exploring this venture. The state-owned SAIC Motor, which sold 1.2 million vehicles internationally in 2023, with 24% being EVs, established a RORO shipping subsidiary in 2021. Its newest vessel, the most sizeable of its kind capable of transporting 7,600 cars, also began its journey in January with Europe as its destination, akin to BYD Explorer No.1.

BYD has proclaimed its intentions of incorporating battery technology into its vessels in the future, though the currently leased RORO vessels are not electric. The majority of the latest vessels can operate on either conventional fuel or liquefied natural gas, offering a cleaner alternative.

As the transition to the shipping industry takes time, notably with construction of large new vessels typically taking years, Chinese firms have adopted unique solutions to tackle the shortage in supply. Many enterprises have repurposed vessels originally designed for other cargo types.

Specifically, massive ships usually engaged in the transportation of wood pulp from South America to China have caught their attention. These carriers, which return with minimal or no cargo due to China’s lack of similar export items, are now being eyed by automakers for shipping vehicles.