NYK to move cars from Japan by rail through Central Asia to Europe

rail train

If true, the report in the Japanese newspaper Nikkei that NYK is to “deliver cars to Europe by train” is an important milestone in the growth of China-Europe rail and road transport.

The newspaper, which is generally well connected to the not always transparent corporate world of Japan, reports that NYK “will send some of its exports by rail rather than sea freight to cut carbon emissions”. The article continues “the company will start transporting Japanese cars to Europe using trains that cross mainland China this year. Having formed a partnership with a Chinese railway operator, it plans to ship automobiles from Japan to the Chinese city of Dalian from where shipments will travel through Altynkol in Kazakstan”.

Nikkei says that NYK aims to ship 5,000 “units” a year in 2021 but aims to increase this to “30,000 to 50,000”. The costs will be the same as moving the vehicles by sea and NYK is claiming that carbon emissions can be reduced by half.

Although this is not the first time that cars have been moved on the China-Europe rail network through Central Asia, it is remarkable that the world’s largest car-carrier shipping operator is doing it. German car manufacturers have been utilising the service to a modest extent in order to access production from plants in western China but in the case of the NYK service the cars will be Japanese production.

Admittedly even the target of 50,000 cars is a small part of the over 3.5m vehicles that NYK handles every year, but the fact it is doing it at all is notable. The reasons for the move may be influenced by their vehicle manufacturer customer’s desire to be seen to be reducing carbon emissions, although the comparative carbon ‘footprints’ of shipping and diesel-powered rail cannot be that enormous. What the move does illustrate is that the overland route through Central Asia has an increasing attraction for all sorts of cargo and its growth is likely to continue. 

Source: Transport Intelligence, January 19, 2021

Author: Thomas Cullen