Hoeegh Autoliners is offering a new, direct service to New Zealand and Australia with a U.S. automaker as its launch customer.

Automakers will have another shipping option from the U.S. to Australia and New Zealand when Hoegh Autoliners in March begins offering a monthly direct service from the Port of Baltimore.

The Norwegian car carrier announced the service last week, with the first sailing on a roll-on/roll-off vessel with capacity for 6,500 car-equivalent units.

The impetus for the new route is a new contract with a Detroit 3 automaker, Shane Warren, head of the Americas region, told Automotive News. He declined to identify the customer.

Automaking in Australia all but ended last year when General Motors closed its longtime Holden operations in the state of South Australia. Toyota Motor Corp. closed its operations in neighboring Victoria. Ford Motor Co. ceased production at two plants in Victoria the previous year.

Hoegh already offers service to the region, but it requires going through ports in Europe, where vehicles are transferred to another vessel. The new service will have faster transit times and require less handling, which minimizes the potential for damage.

“Time to market is important for the customer,” Warren said.

Hoegh’s service puts it in direct competition with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, the only roll-on/roll-off carrier that currently offers direct ocean service to the Australia and New Zealand region from the U.S. WWL spokeswoman Carine Mortensen said the company hauls about 55,000 vehicles per year to Australia and New Zealand.

The Hoegh vessels will originate in Europe and discharge vehicles in Baltimore before being loaded with exports from the new customer. Vessels also will stop in Jacksonville, Fla., another major auto port, before heading through the Panama Canal to the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas, where vehicles produced by the Detroit 3 car company also will be loaded. The rotation will continue through the ports of Auckland, Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle.

Warren said no autos will be loaded in Jacksonville, only machinery and equipment. But the company is looking to add customers, he added, and there are many automakers with plants in the Southeast.

“Our intention is to grow our cargo base,” Warren said.

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