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Baltimore bridge collapse closes the U.S.'s No. 1 port for vehicles

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Port of Baltimore is the top port for cars and light trucks in the United States, and now most of the port is blocked after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed on Tuesday. That collapse killed two people. Four others are presumed dead. And as recovery efforts continue, the port will remain blocked. So what does that mean for the auto industry's supply chain? Let's ask John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. It's a trade and advocacy group representing most automakers in the U.S., and John is with us now. Good morning.

JOHN BOZZELLA: Good morning.

FADEL: So I know it's only been a couple days, but John, what are car manufacturers saying about how this closure is impacting them?

BOZZELLA: Yeah. First let me just say this is a terrible human tragedy...

FADEL: It is.

BOZZELLA: ...And our sympathies go to those who are injured and still missing...

FADEL: Yeah.

BOZZELLA: ...And to the people of Baltimore as they, you know, work through the immediate aftermath. With regard to the auto industry, this is the No. 1 auto port in the entire United States.

FADEL: Yeah.

BOZZELLA: And so there is absolutely going to be some disruption. We have both imports and exports of vehicles - cars and light trucks that move through the port, as well as parts. What we don't know at this point is the extent of the disruption as the companies work on moving around the port.

FADEL: Well, I mean, until this port opens, you mentioned moving around, is there a plan B? Are shipments being rerouted?

BOZZELLA: Yeah. That's what companies are working on now. And different companies are impacted to more or lesser degree, depending on, you know, how much they use the port. And so that's what's happening now. I also think it's important to recognize that the federal government is also trying to figure out how to support those workarounds and those alternatives. There'll be a meeting later today hosted by Secretary Buttigieg that auto executives and other shippers and supply chain executives will be at to discuss these types of things.

FADEL: So with this disruption of the supply chain, will it ultimately affect the price of vehicles?

BOZZELLA: Yeah. That's a big question. You know, a lot of it will depend on the extent to which companies can find these workarounds and the extent to which this part of the Port of Baltimore is disrupted, right? So in other words, how long will that pass into the port be closed? To what extent will the repair of the bridge and the rebuilding of the bridge affect transit in and out of the port? So we just don't know the extent yet. What we learned from the pandemic, of course, is that significant disruptions to the automotive supply chain can have an impact on the market. What we've also learned from the pandemic is companies have thought about their supply chains and resiliency in a, I think, more strategic way than perhaps was done in the past.

FADEL: Yeah. And as you point out, this is a real human tragedy at this moment. And really, the first priority is the very dangerous recovery efforts, both of getting that bridge out of the water and finding the four missing people.

John Bozzella is the president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. Thank you so much for joining us.

BOZZELLA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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