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Vehicles drive growth for Alabama’s export machine

Alabama-built vehicles are blazing a trail in the global economy, ranking as the state’s top export product and serving as a brand ambassador that landed in 73 foreign countries in 2021.

More than $7.7 billion in Alabama vehicle exports were recorded in 2021, topping the total from pre-pandemic 2019 by over $1 billion, according to data from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Overseas shipments of motor vehicles rose 38.4% in value from 2020’s total of $5.5 billion.

Increased motor vehicle exports represent an encouraging sign for Alabama’s auto industry, which experienced a 17% decline in overseas shipments in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world’s economy.

In addition, exports of Alabama-made auto parts topped $845 million in 2021, an increase of almost 10% from the previous year, according to trade data.

“Customers around the globe continue to seek the high-quality, high-performance products of Alabama’s auto industry, and our skilled auto workers continue to deliver what they’re looking for,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The success of Alabama exports, and particularly automotive exports, helps create jobs and transform communities here at home.”

Preliminary results for 2022 show that the upward trend in auto exports is holding course, with nearly $8 billion in overseas vehicle shipments through November, according to Commerce data. Full results for the year will be released this month.


To illustrate the significance of Alabama’s auto exports, consider this: Overseas shipments of motor vehicles equaled nearly 37% of the state’s overall total of $21 billion in exports during 2021.

Germany was the No. 1 destination for Alabama-made motor vehicles in 2021, with shipments valued at $2.8 billion, a 91% increase from 2020.

Other top foreign destinations for Alabama-built vehicles in 2021 were China ($1.7 billion) and Canada ($1.4 billion). Large year-over-year gains were seen in exports to Australia (92%) and Mexico (89%).

Steve Sewell, vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, said the vigorous auto exporting activity brings a cascade of positive impacts to the state’s industry.

“Exports of Alabama-built vehicles has a far-reaching impact on the state’s economy, creating new jobs and driving additional investment in the state’s automotive industry,”  Sewell said. “And shipping vehicles to countries throughout the world supports economic activity in the sectors directly involved in exporting.

“In addition, the global demand for these high-profile products has greatly extended the ‘Made in Alabama’ brand, resulting in a growing awareness of the state’s position as a leader in advanced manufacturing.”


Alabama, however, hasn’t always been an auto-exporting powerhouse.

In 2001, Alabama exported just $1.6 billion in vehicles and auto parts. Today, after years of gains, Alabama is the No. 3 state for auto exports, according to data from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The impressive rise in auto exports can serve as an example for many other Alabama industries that produce high-quality goods that could attract strong international demand,” said Christina Stimpson, director of Commerce’s Office of International Trade. “For Alabama businesses, exporting can diversify their customer base, boost their bottom line and solidify their future.

“It’s just good business strategy.”

For Alabama’s auto industry, exporting will clearly remain a priority, and the centerpiece of the state’s export machine — the Port of Mobile — plans to play a larger role in getting vehicles to destinations around the world.

Alabama’s only deep-water port has a new $60 million finished vehicle roll-on/roll-off terminal, including a 40,000-square-foot vehicle processing center that promises to accelerate the vehicle delivery process over rival ports.

The new gateway has capacity to process 150,000 vehicle units annually.

The facility is operated by AutoMobile International Terminal, a joint venture between Argentine operator Terminal Zárate and Neltume Ports, based in Chile. It follows an agreement with the Alabama State Port Authority.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

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