Canada losing ground to Mexico in manufacturing race

By: | Issue #658 | at 10:04 AM | Channel(s): International Trade  

Two years back, prominent Canadian economist and car industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers shocked his countrymen when he predicted that Canada’s car manufacturing would completely die in the decades ahead.

“Somewhere between 2030 and 2040 we’ll be Australia,” he told The Economist, referring to Australia, whose three manufacturers will all cease production by the end of this year.

Imports into the US from Canada and Mexico are almost at a par with each other. Last year, some 2.7 million vehicles were shipped from Mexico to the US, while 2.3 million came from Canada. But the trajectories of the two countries couldn’t be more dissimilar. Despite Ford’s well-publicized scrapping of a plant in the Central Mexican state of Guanajuato and Toyota and Mazda’s recent announcement of a new joint venture plant in the US, manufacturers have been pouring into Mexico, while investment in Canada’s auto industry is down to a trickle. (The new joint venture plant, for example, will likely produce Toyota Corollas now made in Canada.)

Add to that the likelihood that Chinese manufacturers will possibly set up plants in Mexico and the gap will only grow larger over the years ahead.

Canada “is losing several key, high-volume products,” said Brandon Mason, the global automotive practice director at PwC, in a recent presentation at an Automotive Logistics conference. The consultancy believes, by contrast, that Mexico will remain a “significant growth center for the region,” Mason said.

PwC forecasts that light vehicle assembly in Mexico will increase from 3.5 million in 2016, of which to almost 5 million by 2023.

For ports, shippers and carriers, the shift presents both opportunities and challenges and the logistics industry is scrambling. The supply chain from Canada southward is well-established, stable and consistent. CN says that it, alone, handles half the country’s vehicle production output, employing two- and three-level car carriers.

Vehicles coming from Mexico to the north are in a state of flux, and not because of President Trump’s threats to slap high duties on Mexican products. That’s true of finished vehicles and auto parts as well. According to a recent Brookings Institution study, Texas alone imports nearly $6 billion in auto parts from Mexico.

Take transport by ship as an example. During the first five months of this year, Mexico’s finished vehicle traffic increased by more than 40% to 667,000, according to Mexico’s Transport and Communications Ministry, as quoted in Automotive Logistics. Ports on the Gulf as well as the Pacific saw large gains. Exports account for more than half of these vehicle movements and are grew by almost 50% during this period. The Pacific port of Lázaro Cárdenas is undergoing a major investment program on a new terminal that will boost its capacity to export vehicles, welcome news for a country that suffers from port congestion, especially Veracruz, North America’s largest port for finished vehicle movements.

While Mexico’s ship-born vehicle, exports have traditionally been destined to other countries in Latin America, ship movements are gaining momentum as well, thanks to short-sea shipping. This is, in part, because of concerns that shipping by rail is bumping up against capacity issues. Take Honda, for example. Some two-thirds of the Japanese car maker’s Mexico production moves by ship to the US, either out of Veracruz, to ports on the East Coast, or Lázaro Cárdenas, to ports on the West Coast.

American Journal of Transportation