Delivering cars is now a gas

Statement of terms: If it involves transportation, it’s got a home on this website, and always will. Here’s an indication of what we mean: Cars built outside the United States typically reach their intended market aboard transport ships that are commonly known as ro-ros in the maritime industry, short for roll on, roll off. Volkswagen makes extensive use of this kind of cargo ship. The first in a pair of new transport ships used by Volkswagen, fueled by liquefied natural gas, just made its first call at the automaker’s East Coast port of entry in Davisville, Rhode Island, after a voyage from Emden, the port city in the German state of Lower Saxony, where Volkswagen produces the Passat.

The newly launched Siem Confucius is one of two LNG-fueled ro-ros built in China for Volkswagen transportation partner Siem Car Carriers AS of Norway. Both ships use LNG to run their massive diesel prime movers, can carry up to 4,800 cars on 13 cargo decks within their massive hulls during a single voyage. Each such odyssey will require a 475,000-gallon load of fuel to complete each round trip to the United States from Germany, which encompasses 12,000 nautical miles and usually involves another stop in Veracruz, Mexico. LNG has emerged as a desirable vehicle fuel – lots of urban transit fleets have adopted it – because it has lower carbon monoxide emissions than the sort of diesel fuel that transit buses and marine engines typically burn. You’re seeing this trend in other forms of transportation, too: Close to home, the Florida East Coast Railway operates the 351-mile line between Jacksonville and Miami that was pioneered by the great entrepreneur Henry Flagler. The FEC has lately accelerated its adoption of LNG as a locomotive fuel. It’s now common to see pressurized tank cars coupled between pairs of FEC road locomotives, serving as fuel tenders.

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