The Port of Nanaimo and Mercedes-Benz Canada rolled out a red ribbon cutting for the official grand opening of the B.C. Vehicle Processing Centre in Nanaimo on Tuesday.
The occasion was celebrated inside the facility with a display of some of the Mercedes-Benz cars that have been processed at the centre and speeches by representatives from the city, Port of Nanaimo and Western Stevedoring.
The centre, the first of its kind in Western Canada, has been in development for about two years and received its first cars from a roll-on, roll-off car carrier ship for a test run of the facility in early March.
In its initial phase of operation it will provide about 40 jobs and receive shipments from two ships per month. The centre is expected to process up to roughly 10,000 vehicles annually.
“We’re still ramping up, so we won’t have the final figures here until later this year … I see expansion, for sure, happening,” said Andrew Noye, Mercedes-Benz Canada vice-president of sales.
Noye said ships bringing cars to Nanaimo will pick up some of the vehicles from the Mercede-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and also from a new manufacturing facility in Mexico.
“We have another facility coming on line in Mexico. We’re also stopping to pick up cars there and bringing them here as well … we want to make sure that we’re operational and effective first here with what our plans are and then we’ll go from there,” he said.
Other brands under the Mercedes umbrella will also go through Nanaimo to dealerships on the Island and Lower Mainland.
“We have a sub brand we call EQ and it’s our all-electric vehicle and that will start coming to Canada in the spring of next year,” Noye said. “That will also be served here as well.”
Plans are for the processing centre to eventually serve much of Western Canada. Eleven of Mercedes-Benz Canada’s 59 dealerships are located in B.C., including two dealerships on the Island.
The processing centre was developed in partnership with Nanaimo Port Authority and Transport Canada, Western Stevedoring, the auto division of SSA Marine and B.C. Vehicle Processing Centre and is the first and only Western Canadian entry point for European auto manufacturers and allows vehicles to be brought by sea directly to Western Canada instead of being unloading on the east coast and transported by rail across the country.
“The dealerships will store the vehicles on-site here rather than storing them in Greater Vancouver, so that’s another advantage of the facility,” said Dave Lucas, Western Stevedoring senior vice-president.
Storing vehicles in Nanaimo where land and storage costs are less expensive could prompt some Lower Mainland dealerships to utilize space on their properties differently or even eliminate expensive vehicle storage options there.
“We’ll be talking to the Lower Mainland dealerships to see if they have interest in storing vehicles here and then we’ll deliver to that dealership when they’re ready for that vehicle,” Luca said.
Ian Marr, Nanaimo Port Authority president and CEO, said the processing centre will bring sustainable, year-round business to the port.
“This one will be a constant. For the near future it’s going to be two ships a month, moving forward,” Marr said. “We’ll see how the volumes go. It’s all about sales and things like that for [Mercedes-Benz] and we’ll see how that goes, but I think as we get into it there will be more manufacturers coming on board and using Nanaimo as their destination … I think what we’ve done here is establish that this is the first one that says, ‘Look. You can do it,’ and with a name like Mercedes on it, they know it gets done right if they’re doing it and so I think other manufacturers will go, ‘Look. This is viable and does make sense.”