Unprecedented Surge in Seaborne Car Trades Signals Maritime Industry’s Remarkable Recovery

Seaborne Car Trades Surge to Unprecedented Heights: Maritime Industry’s Resilience and Record-Breaking Performance in 2023


In a groundbreaking turn of events, the maritime sector is poised to witness record-breaking car trade volumes by sea, surpassing pre-COVID levels by 12% this year and an astounding 19% in car-miles, according to the latest projections by Clarksons Research. Notably, car carriers have emerged as one of the stellar performers in the shipping industry throughout the year.

Clarksons data reveals that global deepsea seaborne car trades are expected to soar by an impressive 17%, reaching 23.7 million cars. This remarkable surge effortlessly surpasses the pre-COVID record of 21.5 million cars set in 2018, primarily driven by a surge in Chinese exports.

A significant contributing factor favoring car carrier operators is the escalating proportion of trade attributed to larger and heavier electric vehicles and hybrids. These eco-friendly vehicles now constitute 29% of cars transported by sea in 2023, a substantial increase from the 9% reported in 2019.

The scarcity of car carriers, stemming from a decade of limited orders, has led to a surge in their market value over the past year. Rates have reached unprecedented levels, driven by a post-pandemic rebound in car demand. Consequently, the car carrier orderbook has seen a notable uptick, with owners securing slots predominantly in China for supersized vessels. In an unusual twist, carmakers have even ventured into the container carrier sector, capitalizing on weakened rates. The latest data indicates that 80 vessels, totaling 677,000 car equivalent units (ceu), have been confirmed ordered in 2023, establishing a new annual record and bringing the orderbook to an impressive 37% of the fleet capacity.

As 2023 concludes, Clarksons describes the car carrier markets as persistently “exceptionally tight” in its latest weekly report. By November, the one-year time charter rate for a 6,500 ceu ship had soared to $115,000 per day, marking a 10% increase from the already record levels observed a year ago and more than double the previous high reported in Q2 2008. The maritime industry is witnessing a resurgence like never before, as evidenced by these unprecedented developments in the seaborne car trade sector.


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