As consumer demand grows for cleaner and more technologically savvy vehicles, distribution and usage of electric and semi-autonomous vehicles are gaining traction in a U.S. city that many in the U.K. may not be familiar with – at least not yet.
Located at the northern gateway of Florida – a state that leads America in the sale of new vehicles – Jacksonville continues to attract major brands throughout the automotive supply chain with an eye to the future as a leader of vehicle innovation and technology.
E-commerce retailers 1A Auto and Carparts.com have added distribution centres in Jacksonville. The companies join OEMs Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as well as manufacturers like industrial battery maker Saft, which all have distribution operations in the region.
Automotive supply chain leaders are flocking to Jacksonville. JAXPORT, the region’s largest deep-water seaport, is the second busiest U.S. vehicle port. The port offers service from three leading auto processors with facilities as close as 90 metres from ship berths.
As shifting consumer buying habits create demand for next-day and even same-day delivery, Jacksonville’s location gives manufacturers and distributors another edge. The city offers same-day access to 98 million U.S. consumers, and JAXPORT is the closest port with the capabilities and space to move many autos to the growing Central and South Florida markets.
The state of Florida has taken major steps to grow its foothold in the auto supply chain, including a historic investment in improving the state’s electric vehicle charging grid, as well as becoming a national leader in autonomous vehicle (AV) testing and development. Jacksonville has made a name for itself as a testing ground for this type of technology. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s (JTA) Test & Learn track was launched to evaluate AV technology which will lead to reimagining the city’s automated people mover as the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C). The testing of the available AV technology will prepare for the transformation of the existing 4-kilometre elevated transportation rail into a 16-kilometre AV network to facilitate the U2C, as well as provide education to prepare the next generation workforce in automotive technology.
While the AV industry slowed during the global COVID-19 pandemic, innovation was accelerated in Jacksonville and used in pioneering ways. By March 2020, JTA’s partnership with NAVYA, Beep and the Jacksonville campus of Mayo Clinic cultivated in a first-of-its-kind initiative to transport COVID tests safely and efficiently from testing facility to the laboratory using AV shuttles. More recently, JTA, Beep, Local Motors and Goodyear Tire are currently testing non-pneumatic tires on AV shuttles, which serve to be more sustainable, require less maintenance and last longer than traditional tires.
As Jacksonville has a leading seaport for e-commerce, import/export capabilities and vehicle processing and zeal for ground-level technology and innovation testing, the abundance of young, skilled talent is also a draw for global manufacturing, logistics and technology companies.
With support for electric vehicles at an all-time high, and vehicles with autonomous functionality growing in popularity, Jacksonville is poised for continued growth in the auto sector.
By John Freeman, Senior Director, Business Development and Global Cities Initiative, JAXUSA Partnership for SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, one of the largest and most influential trade associations in the United Kingdom.