In the fast-paced world of electric vehicles (EVs), shipping cars across oceans is changing a lot. With the rapid rise in EV exports, especially from countries like China, the way these cars are transported is getting a major update. Companies like BYD, a top EV manufacturer, are at the forefront of this change, not only advancing electric mobility but also making big improvements in how these vehicles are shipped around the world.

Rising demand and challenges in the EV shipping sector

The worldwide shipping industry is dealing with big problems, especially when it comes to moving electric vehicles (EVs). Right now, there aren’t enough specialised ships designed to carry cars, and that’s causing issues with how available and expensive transport options like RORO (roll-on/roll-off) ships are.

The hunt for EV shipping solutions

The heart of the problem lies in the shortage of specially designed ships equipped to transport cars efficiently and safely over long distances. These ships, known as RORO vessels, are crucial for manufacturers like BYD looking to ship their vehicles worldwide. The demand for EVs has led to a significant increase in the need for these ships, but the supply has not kept pace.

Historically dominated by established automakers such as Nissan and Toyota, the availability of RORO ships has declined due to factors like fleet replacements and reduced shipbuilding following the 2008 financial crisis. This has resulted in substantially higher charter costs for these ships, with daily rates reaching historic highs.

In 2023, rental prices for RORO ships reached record levels, with the daily costs of chartering a ship rising significantly. Prior to the pandemic and subsequent disruptions in the shipping industry, rental prices were much lower. The increase in 2023 was so drastic that it exponentially raised the costs for automakers like BYD to transport their vehicles by sea.

BYD’s innovations in maritime transport

The shortage of available ships is hitting BYD and other Chinese automakers hard, limiting their access to transportation and driving up costs. RORO ships are crucial for EV logistics, and high rental prices are squeezing profitability.

To meet growing overseas demand, BYD has launched its own fleet, starting with the BYD Explorer No.1. This ship recently transported over 5,000 electric cars from China to India and onward to Europe, marking a significant stride in BYD’s strategy to reduce reliance on external shipping services.

A key advancement is the integration of advanced battery technologies in shipping. Electric and hybrid propulsion systems are promising alternatives to traditional fuels, offering potential cost savings, reduced environmental impact, and greater flexibility and scalability.

Companies like BYD, which has ambitious plans to expand its fleet with electric RORO ships, are leading this shift. By investing in ships powered by renewable sources like electricity, businesses can shrink their carbon footprint and capitalise on long-term cost efficiencies and operational improvements.

Advancing green practices in maritime transport

Technological advancements such as improved battery capacity, faster charging technologies, and advanced energy management systems contribute to the feasibility and acceptance of electric and hybrid ships on a large scale.

As these technologies continue to evolve and sea-based electric charging infrastructure develops, the industry is expected to experience a greater shift towards sustainable maritime practices. This includes not only using cleaner fuels but also implementing stricter regulations and policies to support environmentally friendly initiatives in shipping.

Safety and regulatory challenges

Integrating electric vehicles into global shipping brings specific safety and regulatory challenges essential for ensuring fire safety and minimising operational risks. While there have been no documented cases of fires starting in electric vehicles aboard ships, recent research highlights the need for specific firefighting methods and regulations to effectively manage potential risks.

Safety aspects of electric vehicles on ships

Electric vehicles have unique fire safety characteristics different from traditional combustion engine vehicles. Although electric vehicles catch fire less frequently than conventional vehicles on land, they require special attention on ships. A major concern is controlling a fire in an electric vehicle, where traditional firefighting methods might not be effective due to the unique properties of lithium-ion batteries.

Need for standardised guidelines and regulations

Developing and implementing standardised guidelines and regulations is crucial for ensuring safety when transporting electric vehicles by ship. Currently, there are various guidelines from different organisations and maritime stakeholders, leading to inconsistencies and confusion in practice. A coordinated international approach, possibly led by agencies like the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is necessary to establish uniform safety standards.

Specific firefighting methods

Controlling fires in electric vehicles requires specific firefighting methods that consider the properties of lithium-ion batteries. Water-based extinguishing systems, commonly used on ships, may be insufficient for effectively putting out an electric vehicle fire due to the risk of reacting with battery chemistry. Alternative methods, such as extinguishing agents based on specific chemical compounds or inert gas suppression, may be more suitable options.

Implementation of monitoring and alarm systems

In addition to firefighting, it is crucial to implement monitoring and alarm systems that provide early warnings of potential problems with electric vehicles on board. These systems should include not only fire detection but also continuous monitoring of battery status and environmental parameters that could impact safety

Future developments and regulations

As electric vehicle technology continues to develop, regulations for their safe integration into shipping will also need to evolve. Future regulations will likely become stricter to ensure a safe and sustainable maritime transport environment. This includes not only the physical safety of vehicles but also crew training and the implementation of emergency response plans.

Innovative solutions from ILS

At ILS, we are committed to enhancing safety in the transportation industry, particularly in the shipment of electric vehicles across oceans. Our expertise lies in supplying the “cups” used by shipbuilders to seal decks, allowing effective firefighting in case of vehicle fires. With the increasing weight of electric vehicles compared to traditional cars, we have upgraded our carlashings to a 3-ton capacity, surpassing the standard 2-ton capacity. These enhancements enable us to elevate the safety and stability of the transportation process, crucial for safeguarding valuable cargo and ensuring operational integrity. At ILS, we continue to innovate to meet the growing demand for safe and efficient transport solutions in a rapidly evolving landscape.

The New Wave

The transformation of EV transport across oceans marks a crucial shift in the maritime industry. Companies like BYD are leading this change by not only meeting the growing demand for electric vehicles but also implementing innovative solutions to transport these vehicles efficiently and sustainably over the sea.

Challenges such as a shortage of specialised ships and high transportation costs are being addressed through strategic investments in their own fleets and the development of advanced technologies. As the industry continues to evolve, sustainable and safe shipping practices will become the norm, supported by standardised regulations and ongoing innovations. These developments not only contribute to reducing global emissions but also represent a step forward towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future for the shipping industry.


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