South Carolina-made BMWs primarily start their voyage overseas after port workers drive them onto huge car carriers docked at the Columbus Street Terminal in downtown Charleston.

Annual report

The State Ports Authority saw growth in the number of ships and containers it handled in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The maritime agency said Tuesday its terminals handled the equivalent of about 1.56 million 20-foot-long containers over that period, up 9% from the previous 12 months.

A total of 1,839 ships tied up at SPA docks last fiscal year, a gain of 94, or 5%.

The SPA’s Charleston terminals also handled 1.2 million tons of noncontainerized cargo, a 30% increase.

The rebounding economy and larger vessels calling on the Port of Charleston have helped boost business, the authority has said.

But now the luxury automaker is rolling out a new export option for its sport utility vehicles, according to the State Ports Authority.

BMW plans to ship as many as 2,000 SUVs a year to South America from Charleston by loading two each into 40-foot-long containers at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, said Bill McLean, the SPA’s chief operations officer.

The service will mean an additional 1,000 containers for Wando Welch, the SPA’s busiest facility, McLean said.

The German automaker is using the shipping boxes because the South America market doesn’t immediately have capabilities to roll vehicles from car carriers, he added.

“So what they will do is truck (the vehicles) to Wando and put them on special pallets and stuffed into containers,” McLean said during the authority’s board meeting Tuesday. “This is another way we are meeting their needs, and we are very happy with that.”

BMW produces X5 and X6 SUVs in Greer. The vehicles are transported to Columbus Street from the Upstate factory on trains.

The 2,000 vehicle shipments are a fraction of the cars BMW exports from South Carolina. The company ships about 200,000 vehicles annually through Columbus Street to overseas destinations, said SPA spokeswoman Allison Skipper.

BMW spokesman Sky Foster was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.