$260 million in investments gives Port of Brunswick room to grow.

Just last month, INEOS, a new entry into the vehicle manufacturing sector, announced that the Port of Brunswick, Georgia, would be its gateway for the delivery of its new Grenadier off-road vehicle to markets in the U.S. Southeast and Texas. Nineteen dealers in the region are slated to handle the high-end SUV in Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Houston, Dallas, and High Point, N.C.

Assembled in France, the vehicles will be shipped from Belgium to markets in the U.S. via Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics. The Grenadier is the first foray into auto manufacturing for the France-based global chemical company, which operates in 29 countries around the world.

The Port of Brunswick handled 627 vessel calls in 2023 – 531 of which were destined for the auto port at Colonel’s Island Terminal.

Brunswick’s Ro/Ro Ambition

Brunswick’s ambition is to become the nation’s number one gateway for roll-on/roll-off cargoes and these latest developments highlight that possibility. INEOS is joining two dozen auto manufacturers at Brunswick’s Colonel’s Island terminal, including Mercedes, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, and GM, the top five, as well as machinery producers John Deere, Caterpillar, Wirtgen, and Hamm.

“Brunswick represents our tactical and geographical preferred location to cover our sales distribution network,” said Gabriel Pernia, planning and logistics director at INEOS Automotive Americas. “The port provides an extensive capacity for vehicle storage, processing, and maritime cargo, which helps to minimize total transit time and improve customer order deliveries.”

Georgia is also attracting companies from the electric vehicle ecosystem, including the Hyundai Metaplant, a $9.8 billion manufacturing site that will open later this year in Bryan County, 85 miles north of Brunswick. The automotive parts supplier DAS Corp. opened a $35 million facility in Candler County, 100 miles north of Brunswick, while Anovion Technologies, a synthetic graphite manufacturer, opened for business last year in Decatur County, 200 miles west of Brunswick. The all-electric automaker Rivian is building a manufacturing facility in Stanton Springs, Georgia, around 250 miles northeast of Brunswick.

The Port of Brunswick’s capacity has been enhanced by the Georgia Ports Authority’s investments of $262 million in the Colonel’s Island facility and additional surrounding acreage. The investments went toward 350,000 square feet of on-dock warehousing, 108,000 square feet of warehousing on the south end of the island, and 80 additional acres for ro/ro storage. Still under construction are other buildings totaling 182,000 square feet and an additional 42 storage acres. A fourth ro/ro berth is in the engineering phase and a new rail yard is in the planning stage. The Port of Brunswick handled a record 775,565 units of autos and machinery in 2023, an increase of 15.6% over 2022.

Several factors account for the increase in automobile cargoes at the Port of Brunswick, according to Cliff Pyron, GPA’s chief commercial officer. “First, population growth in the Southeast has meant increased demand for autos across the region,” he said. “Brunswick’s location, central to Southeastern markets, is another factor in favor of Colonel’s Island. Importers can get their finished goods to dealers quicker, while domestic factories also benefit from Brunswick’s proximity, reducing the time and costs associated with overland transportation.

“We expect organic growth and our unmatched ability to take on new trade to boost Brunswick volumes well into the future,” he added.

Two Pillar Strategy

Another factor helping Brunswick is GPA’s two-pillar strategy for development and operations. Under that scheme, the Port of Savannah is focused on container trade while Brunswick specializes in ro/ro. Last month, non-containerized cargo at the Ocean Terminal in Savannah completed a transition to Brunswick.

“By concentrating on containers in Savannah and autos and machinery in Brunswick, we are able to streamline our operations and provide more efficient service to both of our main business sectors as cargo volumes continue to grow,” Griff Lynch, GPA’s CEO, told an audience at the Brunswick Chamber of Commerce last fall.

Several new short-sea services linking Mexico to the Port of Brunswick have been launched in recent months, facilitating the import of vehicles assembled south of the border. In November 2023, the first shipment of over 1,000 vehicles was delivered to Brunswick by Zim’s Gold Star service on the maiden vessel Sebring. In July, the shipping line CMA-CGM started a new short-sea service carrying vehicles from Mexico to the Port of Brunswick, over a similar route as offered by Gold Star. In addition, NYK and Hoegh Autoliners have both recently added routes from Brunswick to the Middle East.

GPA’s investments in the Port of Brunswick are part of an ambitious plan to establish Brunswick as the nation’s number one ro/ro gateway. “At its current rate of growth, the Port of Brunswick is poised to become the nation’s busiest gateway for ro/ro cargo,” said Lynch. “We will be ready to serve this growth with our capital improvement projects underway and available land to expand to demand.

“Organic growth, a steady pipeline of new customers and the ability to take on new trade will boost Brunswick’s ro/ro volumes, which are already expanding at a strong rate,” he added. “To accommodate anticipated market demand, GPA has initiated an aggressive infrastructure plan, strengthening Colonel’s Island for auto and machinery processing.”

New Railyard

The planned new railyard on the southside of Colonel’s Island will enter the construction phase next year. “This rail capacity improvement will extend Brunswick’s reach deeper into interior markets to capture more business,” said GPA Board Chairman Kent Fountain.

The port also features a new fumigation facility onsite which is required for cars and machinery being shipped to Australia and New Zealand, the largest facility of its size for autos and machinery. Federally funded maintenance dredging is ongoing in the Brunswick River shipping channel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also awaiting funding for a project to widen the channel and expand the turning basin at Colonel’s Island.

Colonel’s Island encompasses 1,700 acres, making it “the nation’s premier gateway for auto and ro/ro cargo,” noted Fountain. “Brunswick’s gateway port model features four on-site auto processors, room for customers to grow their business with three available parcels of land totaling 264 acres, and direct access to Interstate 95 for car carrier and machinery trucks. With on-terminal rail, Brunswick offers the fastest East Coast rail connections to inland markets.”