Japanese Shipments to GM Soar : L.A. Port Now Leads Nation in Car Imports

Times Staff Writer

A rising tide of Japanese-built cars bound for General Motors has carried the Port of Los Angeles past Jacksonville, Fla., to become the nation’s leading port of entry for imported automobiles, according to a survey released here Tuesday.

Los Angeles, which ranked sixth in imported-car volume as recently as 1983, took over the top spot in the first five months of 1985, said Ward’s Automotive Reports, the auto-industry trade journal that surveyed auto importers. Jacksonville, the leading port for the past few years, slipped to second place, followed in order by Houston, Portland, Ore., and Baltimore.

Ward’s figures, based on questionnaires sent to the importers, cover 90% of the nation’s auto imports from Europe and Japan but do not include figures from Honda, which refused to release shipment figures by port of entry, the publication said. The available figures show, however, that from January through May, 153,885 cars passed through the Port of Los Angeles, compared to 127,820 for Jacksonville.

GM Decision a Big Boost

In all of last year, Jacksonville handled 316,582 cars and Los Angeles 270,118.

Port officials said GM’s decision to ship its new Japanese imports through Los Angeles gave the port a big boost this year. GM’s Chevrolet division sells subcompacts built by Isuzu and Suzuki and has been shipping many more of those cars through Los Angeles since last April, when import quotas on Japanese cars were eased. GM shipped 30,252 subcompacts through Los Angeles in the first five months of 1985, compared to 26,152 for all of 1984 and none at all in 1983, Ward’s reported.


“A large part of our increase here is due to GM,” said Mike Levitt, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles. But, he added, other importers are also increasing shipments through Los Angeles because of a growing demand for foreign cars in Southern California. Nissan, Subaru, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Saab all increased shipments through Los Angeles this year.

Strong Regional Sales

Gene Quinn, director of port operations for Nissan, agreed that the increased volume through Los Angeles reflects strong regional sales at nearby showrooms.

“In our case,” Quinn said, “Southern California is our single largest sales market, so we bring more cars through Los Angeles than anywhere else.”

To keep up with the increased traffic, port officials are planning to raze an old passenger terminal early next year to make way for a fifth auto handling and storage facility, which is scheduled for completion next year, Levitt said.

Port officials in Jacksonville, disturbed by the survey’s findings, noted the incompleteness of the figures, lacking port-of-entry figures from Honda, which Ward’s analysts said was the only major Japanese firm not to respond. Honda ships thousands of cars each year through Jacksonville, but in California the company uses the Port of Long Beach and not its neighbor.

Still, the survey indicated, a significant shift in favor of Los Angeles has been under way for several years. BMW, for instance, used to ship cars bound for California markets through both San Francisco and Los Angeles but has now consolidated its port operations in Los Angeles, spokesman Thomas McGurn said. And as long as California continues to account for more than 20% of BMW’s U.S. sales, he added, Los Angeles will remain a key port of entry for the German auto maker.


Number of vehicles 1985* 1984 1983 Los Angeles 153,885 270,118 187,202 Jacksonville, Fla. 127,820 316,582 298,331 Houston 89,850 216,450 199,335 Portland, Ore. 72,759 239,704 207,470 Baltimore 70,241 164,114 215,651

*Jan. 1 through May 31 Source: Ward’s Automotive Reports