Recession has Washington state port lot full of cars

Sluggish car sales mean more new cars are parked on Tacoma's Tideflats, even as the import of automobiles to the Port of Tacoma slows.

At least 44,000 cars – about 10,000 to 12,000 more than usual for this time of year – were parked in areas around the port Tuesday, according to Andre Elmaleh, the port's director of auto and port operations business.

Meanwhile the 28,000 cars that came into the port from manufacturers in Asia was down 40 percent this year as of March when compared to 2008.

Lower imports mean lower revenues for the port. The port charges importers based on the number and weight of their vehicles and the size of the ships that bring them. Tacoma-based auto processor Auto Warehousing Inc. leases buildings from the port where it prepares imported cars for sale, gassing them up, washing them and installing accessories such as navigation systems and trailer hitches.

Then cars move on to the dealers.

"Dealerships aren't taking the cars off the port and dealers can only have a certain number of cars in stock," Elmaleh said last week.

New car sales were down more than 37 percent across the country in March, according to automotive market analysis from research firm Cross-Sell, as car loans become harder to obtain and more people lose their jobs.

While the dealers wait for buyers, the cars wait in the port.

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