While Auckland's been jawboning about what to do about the giant import car park on its waterfront, Northport's been doing, coming up with a new traffic-lite handling idea for imports that's getting car industry attention.
Northport and its half-owner Marsden Maritime Holdings (MMH) have for nearly three years been researching how to cash in on new and used vehicle import growth, but in a way that meets the future delivery needs of the sector without increasing road congestion.
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Chairman of both companies Murray Jagger said the model they've come up with is for all road compliance and certifying to be done landside at Northport, making vehicles customer-ready on the spot. Vehicles could then head south on small car carrier vessels, on road transporters, by rail or be collected directly by buyers.
"So instead of multiple movements through greater and greater congestion in Auckland, we have the opportunity in one-stop to fully comply and have them customer-ready," Jagger said.
The mixed-distribution model would be cost-neutral on the price of a vehicle, he said.
MMH is the infrastructure provider for the deepwater port at Marsden Point near Whangārei.
Jagger said it had enough space to accommodate 5000 vehicle imports tomorrow.
Vehicle importers and dealers would own the new system, leasing the land and any supporting infrastructure builds they required from the port operators, he said.
"We've had discussions with importers and car dealers and VIA (used imports association) and they see the merit in it."
Dedicated vehicle shipping companies which call at New Zealand had also been consulted.
Next step was to commission an independent economic and strategic analysis of the idea.
"We now need to do a more detailed piece of work to give clearer economic transparency around it," Jagger said.
Listed MMH is 19.9 per cent owned by the Ports of Auckland. The Northland Regional Council owns 53 per cent. The other half of Northport is owned by the listed Port of Tauranga.
Jagger said there was no intent to compete "head to head" with the Ports of Auckland for vehicle imports. They are a lucrative business for the Auckland port requiring small capital investment, with more than 300,000 new and used vehicles landed a year.
The independent analysis would be done whatever the outcome of the final report of the working group on a Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy.
The focus of the Government-appointed working group was port reform, with Coalition partner NZ First keen for Northport to take over Auckland cargo operations. The final report, due for release after Cabinet scrutiny this week, is expected to conclude council-owned Ports of Auckland is not economically or environmentally viable and should be closed to all but cruise shipping. Northport was the working group's favoured alternative for development in an earlier interim report.
Jagger said no one should be in any doubt that Northport has a vision for growth and is developing regardless of the brouhaha around the working group's reports.
Inquiries were strong from several sectors for space in MMH's marine precinct.
Jagger said a port operator had to think 30-50 years ahead.
"How will people want vehicles delivered in the future? It won't be as it is today."
Northport and MMH quickly realised the distribution model would have to change if vehicles were to come to Marsden Point. At Auckland's port, after vehicles are unloaded from specialised car carrier vessels, they are trucked to various places in the city to be made customer-ready.
"If you look at the current model you have to ask is it sustainable in future? People would say it's not. Auckland is going to become increasingly congested."
Jagger said when the prospect of vehicle imports at Northport was mentioned, people jumped to the wrong conclusion.
"Everyone automatically latches on to unloading and then trucking (them) to Auckland. There's no advantage in that.
"The advantage we have is a mixed distribution model for a fully compliant vehicle. All done at Marsden Point."
The Port of Tauranga has been landing vehicle imports for two years.