RoRo car shipping costs & availability- Jan 2023 update

Roll on roll off (RoRo) car shipping from Japan to the UK is in a bit of a mess at the moment, so I thought I’d write about it to keep you informed.

Before we go any further, shipping arrangements are constantly changing so please make sure you’re working with the most up to date information before making any decisions. This article will likely be out of date within days or weeks of being written!

The ‘mess’ I’m talking about is twofold: lack of availability and sky high prices. As is often the case, these 2 things are connected.

Picture of a RoRo ship: RoRo shipping costs have increased substantially in recent months.
M/V Hoegh Maputo by A Guy Named Nyal licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I’ve just updated my shipping costs article. The cost per m3 for RoRo shipping today is more than double that when I first wrote the article in 2015. I wasn’t expecting it to stay the same, due to the obvious influence of inflation, but there have been huge rate increases recently, way above the rate of inflation.

Regarding availability, I’ve just had 2 cars wait 4 months in Japan for space to become available on a RoRo vessel.

Why the high prices and long delays?

Covid, Evergiven, war in Ukraine. That’s the short answer. Before I dive into the longer answer, please note I’m not a shipping expert, but this is my understanding of some of the reasons behind the current situation.

Covid caused a substantial reduction in new car sales and there was also a big reduction in microchip manufacture and availability. Japanese car manufacturers scaled back production during this time. This had a knock on effect of causing RoRo shipping companies to scale back their schedules due to lack of demand (their main customers are new car manufacturers).

The Evergiven getting stuck in the Suez canal, along with covid, caused huge problems with container shipping, leading to substantial rises in container costs. This meant that many of the used cars that would usually have travelled in containers ended up taking more RoRo space.

Once covid rules relaxed, demand for new cars started increasing again and car manufacture ramped up. This caused an increased requirement for RoRo shipping. But increased RoRo shipping availability can’t just be turned on at the drop of a hat.

Car manufacturers are RoRo shipping companies’ best customers and so it makes sense that they get priority for the available shipping space. This means used car importers are at the back of the queue and have to wait.

Thus we have the classic high demand and lack of supply situation driving the prices up and up, with an additional contribution from rising diesel prices.

Picture of a container ship - is this a cheaper options for transporting cars from Japan?
Container ship by NOAA’s National Ocean Service licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

So will the current situation improve? Well, RoRo shipping availability is improving already, but the prices aren’t! Container shipping rates have dropped substantially in recent months and are roughly back to pre-pandemic levels. Coupled with the ongoing rise in RoRo costs, this means that a container full of cars is now cheaper than the equivalent RoRo shipping costs. This should mean that some cars that would have been moved RoRo shipping will be shipped by container instead, thus freeing up some RoRo space. Hopefully in time it will also mean a reduction in RoRo shipping costs. We’ll see!

In the meantime, if you’re shipping a car using RoRo, make sure you’re aware of the costs before you commit to buying. If you’re shipping multiple cars, the current RoRo shipping costs may well make container shipping a cheaper option.

12 Comments

  1. I’m looking at importing a 30ft limo for Japan Yokohama to the uk, any ports in the uk are fine, I’m wondering if you’re able to help

  2. May 2023 is robot from Japan still backlogged, what isthe approx wait time e to deliver to Vancouver Canada now?

    • Not sure about times to Canada but I’ve just waited about 4 weeks for RoRo availability to the UK.

  3. Hi, Sorry i’m a little confused with your figures. If i purchase a vehicle in japan for £1250, i cant work out why it would cost £5500 complete in the UK. I think I’ve got the vat & duty but roughly how much is the shipping ?

    • Hi Gareth

      The shipping cost depends on the size of the car, but your final cost of £5500 does sound about right. It will be more than that if you’re talking about a large car.

      If you’d like me to go through the calculation with you in detail, please book yourself in for an advice call.

      Thanks
      Andrew

    • I’m not sure how he’s getting his figures.
      I just bought a 2013 BMW 1 series.
      The fees in Japan where roughly £500 plus £1000 shipping.
      Then X the total by 30% .

      • Costs are changing all the time. My previous reply was correct at the time, but it isn’t any more: shipping costs and exchange rates have changed since.

        Also for the benefit of other readers, multiplying by 30 % isn’t correct.

        Thanks
        Andrew

        • You tell me how I’m wrong then?
          There is obviously registering the vehicle and Mot and a few other minor charges but that is it.

      • Hi Corin,
        can i know which agency and shipping company was used please? I’ve been waiting since long for the roro rates to normalise. Feel the exporters might be making some extra bucks in commission from shipping cos.

  4. @Andrew What are the best custom clearance agents for this service in UK? I live in East Midland, so which port should I choose? Also, what documents do I need to drive the car from the port to my home?

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