By on January 30, 2012

So you know everything about cars. What do you know about the monster car carriers that bring an imported car? As far as I am concerned, I knew nothing when I arrived this morning at Nissan’s dock in Oppama, where Japan’s second largest car company showed off a 2012 model car carrier, the Nichioh Maru. And would you believe that the blue and white monster is green?

Actually, I still know nothing about the car carriers that sail the high seas. The Nichioh Maru is a coastal ship. It steams, well, diesels up and down the Japanese archipelago on its route between Oppama, Kobe and Kyushu. On four decks, the Nichioh Maru has room for 1,380 cars. Yesterday, the ship completed its first day on the job by bringing cars to Oppama. Today, it loads Leafs while I watch.

By comparison, the Panama-flagged Eternal Ace that swallows cars for overseas shipping in the dock next door has room for 5,563 cars. That according to Jane’s merchant ships. If you want to get the inside track on a 5,000+ unit class car carrier, simply multiply this story by three and a half, and then deduct the green.

Did I say green? After building zero emission vehicles like the Leaf, Nissan is tackling the ships that bring them. The Nichioh Maru is not quite zero emission yet, but the ship achieves a 20 percent reduction of fuel used and CO2 produced over conventional ships, I am told today.

The ship does so with an electronically controlled 18,000 hp diesel engine (produced by MAN.) The ship has LED lighting in the ship’s hold and living quarters, and its hull is painted with the latest in low friction coating.

The top of the ship is covered with solar power panels, the first time on a coastal ship in Japan, my handlers say. The solar panels create a hefty 50 kW of power, some of it stored in a battery for when the sun don’t shine. That ship is so green that the fire extinguishing system is foam type, and not CO2. Even when in flames, that ship won’t emit unnecessary CO2.

For the nautical gearheads, the engine is an MAN B&W 8S50ME-C8. That is an eight cylinder, super long stroke, 50 centimeter piston, M-program, electronically controlled, “compact” engine, Mark 8. Glad you asked.

Inside, the ship looks like a big multistory garage. Except that there are tie-downs in the floor. To prevent the ship from rolling too much (with possible ill effects on not tied down cars), the ship can shoot water from port to starboard ballast tanks, and back.

First 40 cars loaded. Only 1,340 more to go.

On the bridge of the Nichioh Maru.

I couldn’t find a steering wheel on the bridge until I found this small thing. The ship appears to steer itself.

It does so assisted by the latest in on-board navigation. Front and stern thrusters obviate tugboats. Just line up with the dock, push a button – dozo!

No messes in this ship’s mess. Everything is neat and tidy, this is a Japanese ship.

And yes, take your shoes off, this is a Japanese ship.

Galley. The crew can dine in style.

A half-empty bottle of sake is quickly removed. I am being assured that its content was offered solely to Shinto deities to bring good luck to the ship.

Captain’s wardroom. More space than in an average Japanese apartment.

An that’s it – tour’s over! While I write this, the Nichioh Maru is already underway to Kobe and Kyushu.

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55 Comments on “Review: 18,000 hp Nissan Car Carrier Nichioh Maru (2012 Model, JDM Spec)...”

  • avatar

    Very cool!

    Also, there isn’t a single thing out of place in any of those pictures. They sure do…run a tight ship.

  • avatar

    Your intro/short story served as an inviting teaser and I have questions:

    1. How long does it take to load this ship?
    2. And how long for the 5K car big boat?
    3. Top speed and average speed for it and the big one?
    4. How long to cross the Pacific and make to a U.S. port in the jumbo?
    5. How many crew members?
    6. An 18K HP diesel engine needs how much fuel?
    7. How long do these ships stay in use?
    8. How much did this ship cost?

    The question list could go on and on, but that should get us started.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got some ‘sort of answers’ as there aren’t cast iron answers for all your questions.

      1. Depends on the facility, number of drivers available and how much time the charterers (people hiring the ship) are willing to pay for the vessel to be alongside the berth, although I’ve heard of some ships being filled in 12-15 hours… so pretty quick.
      2. As above.
      3. Maximum for this is about 19 knots, however it will most likely spend its life sailing at ‘eco’ speed, about 15-16 knots. Same for the larger.
      4. Oppama to Long Beach CA is about 4800 nautical miles, so at 15 knots, throw in a bit of bad weather and you’ll be looking at about 2 weeks sailing.
      5. Depending on the flag state, age, size of the vessel, anywhere from 20-40 crew. I’d have a guess this one has maybe 25…
      6. 18,000HP engine is about twice as big as in similar sized bulkers and tankers, but the hull is more streamlined, basis this, I’d go for 35-40 metric tons of fuel oil per day.
      7. Depends on market conditions and how well the ship is maintained. Usually about 30-35 years, however the shipping market is so poor at the moment that 20 year old vessels are being scrapped.
      8. Unknown. I’ll wager that the eco-friendly stuff jacked the price up somewhat. For comparison, Hyundai ordered a 6,500 car capacity vessel in March 2011. Prices were quoted somewhere between USD $46-50 million.

      • 0 avatar

        35-40 metric tons of fuel oil per day — WOW! And thanks for the fascinating info.

      • 0 avatar

        No probs. Something else to bear in mind is as I mentioned further down the comments, 1 metric ton of fuel oil will currently set you back USD $700-$800 depending on where you buy it. That’s a lot of green being burnt through in one day!

      • 0 avatar

        You seem to have most of the best answers. Let’s see if you can take it to the next level.
        If you add the expense of the ship, financing, labor costs, as well as maintenance, insurance, fuel oil, etc., etc., “everything!”,and deduct the possible return cargo of containers,what would be the cost per car to ferry 6,500 cars to the U.S. Market???

  • avatar

    Man, do I love big things that move! Do they take passengers?

    Now you did it, you made a big mistake about revealing the engine – Educator Dan is salivating about what he could drop it into.

  • avatar

    Nice review. I’ve always been fascinated by ro-ro car carriers. Kudos to Nissan for trying to reduce carbon footprint of cars even before they are sold. Nissan should go one step further and install kite like “Sails” to achieve 20% further fuel savings.

    I wonder why auto manufacturers can’t set up wind turbines near manufacturing facilities to offset emissions and save money on power bills? IIRC Toyota has installed solar panels in Europe to produce enough energy to make 10,000 cars a year. That is a good start and I would like more companies to follow.

    • 0 avatar

      I imagine it has something to do with the cost of convential power grid power vs. the cost of erecting a solar wind farm. I’m no expert on the topic, but I know a local car dealer installed a smaller wind turbine in their lot. In a article I read about it, the owner said that it only supplies 20% of the power requirements of the dealership. I don’t know what the power requirements are of a car dealership – I’d imagine the parking lot lights are the biggest draw – but that doesn’t seem like much to me.

      It’s one thing to build a green ship when you need a new ship, it’s something else entirely to erect a wind farm when the existing grid satisfies your needs. That said, for marketing purposes on something like the Leaf factory, it may make sense beyond financial reasons.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        The biggest issues for small scale wind power are the size of the turbine and height of the tower required to properly clear structures which can block optimal air flow (30′ above the highest obstruction within 300′ is the best-case rule). With my home located 50′ south of a main freight rail line, I know better than to ask for any sort of permit to erect a wind tower.

        For the solid state alternative, current prices on PV are well past the “buy it now” stage. 5 years ago they were approaching the $5/watt mark, but these days consumers can pick them up by the pallet-load at less than $2/watt for mono- and polycrystalline panels. The price of powering a small family home with solar power has dropped from nice luxury car levels to the loaded compact car point, and that’s before many state and federal rebates. The biggest obstacles are HOAs and other covenant communities; they will oppose installation of PV panels on the grounds of them being “unsightly.” To get around that, some manufacturers offer PV panels cleverly disguised as staple-tab roofing shingles. And with a 25 year industry average, no other product sold today offers a better warranty. Considering there are still tens of thousands of ARCO quad-lams putting out more than 75% of their rated power atop remote cabins and grid-tied houses across the country, it’s a safe bet.

  • avatar

    A “green” Nissan ship … with a VW engine! What is the world coming to?

    • 0 avatar

      The MAN engine is far from a VW. MAN bought up danish Burmeister & Wain in ’81, but the diesel engine company remains much the same way today.

  • avatar

    They didn’t show the crew’s berthing or the bathrooms? For a computer controlled coastal carrier, I’d expect a small crew and few sleeping berths, but bathrooms! Everybody’s got to go!

  • avatar

    I see similar ships occasionally when I am crossing the Tobin Bridge in Boston.

    Pure form follows function as these have to be the ugliest ships made.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    How many Leafs can it recharge? Might as well put the engine to good use while the boat is sitting around.

    • 0 avatar

      According to the propaganda I was handed, “Power transmission is also possible from the vessel to shore when a disaster occurs.”

      • 0 avatar

        That is what’s supposed to happen if the power goes out here on the West Coast because of an earthquake. I have no idea how much juice a navy destroyer can put out or how it’s going to get to disaster shelters, or wherever, with all the downed transmission lines.

  • avatar

    Very cool! Always love the ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of the entire auto manufacturing process. Makes you realize what a truly large footprint this industry has on everything.

  • avatar

    With both the dollar and euro taking a dump against the Yen, expect this “green” ship to increasingly transport cars within Japan in the future.

  • avatar

    With both the dollar and euro taking a dump vs the Yen, again, expect this “green” ship to increasingly transport cars within Japan in the future.

  • avatar

    Cool! The “greening” stuff is interesting, too. Cargo ships (unlike cars) are low hanging fruit for this sorta stuff.

  • avatar

    Oh and that is not a bathroom, it is a HEAD, you land lubber.

  • avatar

    Bertel, you saw this thing brand new. Wait another 15-20 years and then go aboard… even a Japanese run vessel won’t be in pristine condition like that. And the crapper? Just hold your nose.
    In the current economy you’ll find that pretty much all vessels crossing the Pacific (container ships, car carriers, bulkers, tankers) are all running their engines at super slow speeds in order to save money on fuel. When your average vessel this size can use anything from 20-30 metric tons of diesel oil per day, and fuel oil currently costs $700-$800 per metric ton, you can see why. ‘Economical’ steaming can save up to 20% on fuel. That’s a big saving.

  • avatar

    Thanks for posting this. I see this type of ship everyday here in Jacksonville FL. I have to cross the Dames Point Bridge to get back and forth to work so I see them coming and going. If I am lucking I see them driving them off the ships. Always see the cars being placed on back of haulers and hitting the highway. Mazda, Nissan, VW group,BMW and MB are the ones I see most.

  • avatar

    I was expecting a test drive here.

    What are the 0-60 times? What about braking? How does it handle on a windy river? How many g’s does it pull on a skidpad? Is there predictable understeer?

    And then the most important part: Where would I plug in my iPod?

    • 0 avatar

      Well, I can tell you the 0-60 time is infinite – top speed was reported elsewhere as 19 knots which is just a hair above 20mph.

      I would be curious to know how long it takes to get to cruising sped, though.


    • 0 avatar

      Does it have a flappy paddle gearbox?

      And do they have a captain yet? I heard of an captain who lost his job recently. He’s quite famous in his homecountry, Italy.

      Just make sure he doesn’t go too close to the shore and he’ll be allright.

      • 0 avatar

        I haven’t seen all of the options packages, but it probably wouldn’t be wise to install Microsoft’s SINK system in one of these.

      • 0 avatar

        Funny about paddle shifters, I know it was in jest.

        Truth is there is no gearbox on a ship like this; the shaft is directly connected to the engine. To go into reverse you actually have to stop the engine and then run it backwards.

  • avatar

    Very interesting. Thank you for the behind the scenes info.

    Now, I’m hoping all of the cars waiting to be loaded are in primer coat only. Otherwise, that’s an awful lot of white and white.

  • avatar

    Does anyone know how many RoRo’s were lost to the tsunami? I can see the fleet just getting back to it’s feet after that disaster.

  • avatar
    Point Given

    Pretty cool. I saw this documentary(?) on one of those Discovery/TLC whatever channels about the Faust. Found it pretty interesting.

  • avatar
    Peter Reynolds

    I’m curious about what Roll-on/Roll-off ships carry on the return trip. It would be such a waste for a car carrier to come all the way from Japan or Europe to the US, and go back empty.

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of the large car carriers are also refrigerator ships to carry back US produce. When car shipments dropped in 2008 the price of grapefruit in Japan skyrocketed as a result.

      • 0 avatar

        Where on earth did you get that from? Car carriers are car carriers. They are not reefers (refrigerated). To refrigerate such a vast deck space as a car carrier would require HUGE amounts of power and fuel and would not work. Car carriers and other RO-RO vessels however are capable of carrying reefer containers, perhaps that it what you are referring to.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Why don’t they use wind powered ships?

    • 0 avatar

      Wind conservation

    • 0 avatar

      There is a company which sells ‘sky sails’ ie, large parachutes which you attach to the front of a vessel:
      Also they are trialing another type of wind propulsion called a ‘Flettner Rotor’ on this vessel:
      However in today’s shipping world, contracts tend to specify ‘We want the ship here at exactly these dates’, and wind power is just too unreliable for tight scheduling like that.

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        Siniestermisterman; you are absolutely correct about tight delivery dates. If it were not the case, there would not be a market for overseas air shipments…. get there quickly, although it costs an arm and a leg.

        However, as the world’s fuel prices continue to increase, some budget-oriented customers with no hard time constraints will choose an affordable alternative if it saves them money.

        A good analogy is Amazon’s “free shipping” option. If one reads carefully, they have a much broader delivery range than either UPS ground or even USPS, but hey, its free!

        In other words, wind assisted shipping won’t be for everyone, but it definitively can corner a market segment.

  • avatar

    The Truth About Ships.

  • avatar

    I bet they built it to be faster around the world than Porsche’s car carrier.

  • avatar

    Google USA carriers providing electric power to cities.

    Seattle in 1950s, I believe, is one example.

    Poke around to recent past and discover what a high-speed warship gulps down, especially when NOT in “econo-mode” at cruising speed.

    Newer warships are more efficient but YMMV.

    Nuke propulsion used to be “all the rage” with non-carriers being some extremely cool vessels.

    Nuke cargo ships:

    However, a ship without weapons is unridable for an “old salt.”

  • avatar

    I understand that Mitsubishi and Suzuki are sharing the Kobayashi Maru.

  • avatar
    400 N

    Since Japan has shut down most of its nuclear plants, it’s been suffering power shortages and gulping down imported oil at a frightening rate. It’s a lesson in the benefits of exploring alternative energy – better than putting all your eggs in one basket.

    So, the country is belatedly going out for green energy, out of necessity. For example Honda is equipping its dealers throughout Japan with solar panels.

  • avatar

    AFFF foam is less “green” than CO2, but also much more effective as a suppression agent for most of the hazards likely protected on the ship. FWIW.

  • avatar

    ….great story – the behind the scenes is always even more interesting than the front-of-house stuff- even for cars.

    But I’m curious about the logistics of a ship such as this – the loading/unloading of it, that is. Look at the pics: 1300+ cars on the quayside. Say you have…40 ?….drivers….what, they drive on the 40 cars and………get a bus back to the quayside ? In which case, that’s a damn-near full size bus you’re looking at. And a driver as well. Can’t have 40 guys jollying their way down the ramp. In the rain. At night. In winter.
    And taking them off, the same.
    Or is it ?

    And, keeping in mind your E60 story, and the tale of idle batteries… many DON’T start when the ship hits the shores of US. ? I bet there’s a full time crew for that, too……

    Oh, and do they leave the keys in them ?
    In which case……….how many ‘autolock’ on their way cross the Atlantic………. ?? :)

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Wow what an amazing ship! I wonder how long it took to build the ship?

  • avatar
    Retro cars

    I’d love to be one of those parking attendants for a day.

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