Autos

Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering industrial companies and financial services. He previously was a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He has also worked for the Straits Times, ET NOW and Bloomberg News.

Goodbye ships, car parks are the vessels of the future.

Why make another cargo carrier for transporting coal or iron ore -- things that nobody seems to want any more -- when there's a far more profitable opportunity in building receptacles on land that provide shelter to our soon-to-be most prized possessions: driverless electric vehicles?  

It's a no-brainer really, at least for China Ocean Shipbuilding.  The Hong Kong-listed company, which in October bought a maker of ``intelligent automotive parking equipment'' and then entered into a joint venture that will invest in automated public car parks and electric vehicle charging systems on the mainland, announced this week it's dropping `shipbuilding' from its name.

Good riddance. Considering just how few ships have been sauntering into or out of Shanghai nowadays, building more of them seems like such a pointless exercise:  

That Sinking Feeling
Goods arriving in Shanghai on bulk carriers in the last quarter have sharply declined
Source: Bloomberg

And yet, China still has a 42.5 percent share of the 295 million ton-odd global shipbuilding order book. With commodity prices where they are, it's not clear just how many of these will ever sail. Indeed, customers in the queue might not even want to take delivery.

China's Shipbuilders Still Have Lion's Share of Orders
Source: China Association of National Shipbuilding Industry

Cars may be a different matter. China's state-backed auto industry association is predicting a 6 percent rise in total vehicle sales this year to more than 26 million units, faster than last year's 4.7 percent growth.  Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says he's moving toward his eventual goal of self-piloting cars that could be summoned from anywhere. It's only logical then that China Ocean Shipbuilding -- oops, just China Ocean -- should invest in those cavernous places where off-duty autos will rest, swap gossip about their human owners, and recharge their batteries as they wait for instructions to hit the road.

If nothing else, just imagining a future in which the boring parking lot has become a hotbed of disruptive innovation might make for a healthy distraction from the hopelessness of shipbuilding. While they wait for customers, maybe that's what China Ocean's rivals need right now: a hobby.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Andy Mukherjee in Singapore at amukherjee@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net