U.S. exports of motor vehicle parts are making their way back to pre-pandemic levels this year but remain almost 11 percent below the pace in the record-breaking year of 2018.
For the first time since 2019, U.S. exports in the primary motor vehicle part category topped $30 billion through August, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
This post, focused on the nation’s No. 8-ranked export by value, motor vehicle parts, is the 10th in a series of columns about the nation’s exports.
It follows similar series I did for the countries that were, at the time, the nation’s top 10 trade partners and one for the airports, seaports and border crossings that were, at the time, the nation’s top 10 “ports.”
The first article in this series focused on an overview of the top 10 exports. The second looked at the top 10 countries that are markets for U.S. exports and how they differ from our overall trade partners, which would include imports.
The third was about refined petroleum, the top export; followed by one on oil, which ranks second; natural gas, which includes LNG and ranks third; the primary commercial jet category, which ranks fourth; passenger vehicles, at No. 5; computer chips, which actually rank seventh, though at the time this series started, ranked sixth; and vaccines, plasma and other blood fractions, which ranked seventh when the series started.
(In addition, I intentionally excluded the “low-value” category — largely e-commerce and other courier shipments, which had ranked fifth — because there is little available and meaningful Census data released and it would involve a variety of commodities.)
The 11th and 12th articles will look at No. 9 medicines in pill form, and No. 10 medical instruments.
The single-biggest buyer of U.S. motor vehicle parts is Mexico and the leading gateway for those exports is Port Laredo.
Mexico, through August, was accounting for 42% of all U.S. exports, followed by Canada, at 31%; and China, at 3.8%.
For Mexico, 2022 will mark the first year it will have accounted for more than 40% of all motor vehicle part exports; it finished 2021 a rounding error away at 39.96%.
It will be the first time since 2014 that a nation — in this case, Canada — accounted for more than 40% of the U.S. total. Canada accounted for 53.70% of all U.S. exports in 2007, more than double the percentage of Mexico that year. It accounted for 60.15% in 1999, more than triple the 18.09% shipped to Mexico.
Today, Mexico is home to assembly plants for GM, Toyota, BMW, Honda, Volkswagen, Mazda and others — and the dominant buyer of U.S. motor vehicle part exports.
Digging a little deeper into the specifics of the body parts isn’t easy.
In U.S. Census Bureau data with a more specific classification, more than 30% of the public data falls under “Nesoi” — not elsewhere specified or indicated. That means at the most specific level of publicly available government data keeping track of our exports of motor vehicle parts — which would include parts for trucks, tractors, commercial vehicles and passenger vehicles — it is not possible to clearly identify it. (More than 32% of the motor vehicle part exports sent to Canada are classified this way; 28.53% of those shipped to Mexico.)
That other almost 70% is further identified. There are specific categories for things like bumpers, gear boxes, axels, brakes, shock absorbers, steering wheels, radiators, mufflers and safety air bags.
After the two Nesoi categories referenced above, the largest export sub-category is gear boxes, more than 40% of which is listed as — you guessed it — Nesoi.
Among the 21 sub-categories, eight have topped $1 billion this year. Mexico ranks first in four of those: gear boxes, axels, brakes, shock absorbers and steering wheels.