Premium German Cars Heading to U.S. Now Trapped at Sea

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

A massive cargo ship, responsible for ferrying high-end Volkswagen Group products from Europe to the United States, has reportedly caught fire and is now adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently said to be smoldering at least one-thousand miles off the coast of Portugal, the crew of the Felicity Ace (not pictured) has been evacuated while the sweet treasures contained within remain trapped aboard. Included are about 1,100 Porsches, 189 Bentleys, and a gaggle of Lamborghinis. The remainder of the nearly 4,000 vehicles tucked beneath the the ship’s 650-foot deck are said to be comprised primarily of Audi and VW-branded automobiles.

The boat departed the German port of Emden on February 10th with an itinerary that would have placed it at The Port of Davisville, Rhode Island, on February 23rd. From there, it was supposed to head toward the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for Volkswagen Group of America has confirmed the situation, saying that the company was “aware of an incident involving a third-party cargo ship transporting Volkswagen Group vehicles across the Atlantic. The vessel was on its way to North America. At this time, we are not aware of any injuries. We are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the ship’s crew have been completely evacuated and placed in a local hotel by the Portuguese Navy and Air Force. However, the boat itself is presently enflamed and adrift with nobody aboard.

From Bloomberg:

An internal email from Volkswagen’s U.S. operations revealed there were 3,965 Volkswagen AG vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures vehicles under brands including Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini — all of which were in tow when the vessel set ablaze.

More than 100 of those cars were headed for the Port of Houston in Texas, with GTI, Golf R, and ID.4 models deemed to be at risk, according to the email. The auto industry is already struggling with supply issues, including pandemic-related staffing woes and the global chip shortage.

Luke Vandezande, a spokesperson for Porsche, said the company estimates around 1,100 of its vehicles were among those on board Felicity Ace at the time of the fire. He said customers affected by the incident are being contacted by their dealers. “Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew of the merchant ship Felicity Ace are safe and well,” Vandezande said.

Now is not a great time to lose inventory to the ocean — not that there’s ever a good time. But inventories are incredibly tight and prices are beyond ridiculous. Many of the cars on the ship undoubtedly have customers that have been waiting eagerly for months. Bloomberg made reference to “one Twitter user,” who turned out to be The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah, that reported his custom Porsche would not be making it to his garage.

“The Boxster Spyder with Deman 4.5 motor and shorty gears is the best sports car of all time, hands down,” Farah wrote. “I had it specced [sic] exactly as I wanted it. There is no moving on.”

I’m sure someone who owns a private garage brimming with collectible automobiles (though not all his) will somehow manage to get through this tragedy. However, the situation in the Atlantic remains a real bummer for all parties involved. Porsche said it would be supporting customers and dealers however it can, suggesting that anyone concerned by the incident and the possible implications of a car they’ve ordered should contact their dealer.

Video pertaining to the event has been a little confusing though. Rescue footage shows men being lowered on the deck of the Felicity Ace sans smoke. However, their approach clearly shows the vessel emitting gray plumes from its rear. It’s not clear whether clips shared by the Portuguese Air Force and Navy were sequenced out of order or if the ship’s fire was temporarily suppressed.

On Thursday, the Navy said it’s not detecting any pollutants and has been evaluating whether or not the boat is in immediate danger of sinking. Assuming it isn’t, the plan is to tow the Felicity Ace to the nearest port that’s large enough to take her and determine the full extent of the damage. That places the status of the vehicles fairly low on everybody’s list of priorities. But there remain a lot of unknown, and potentially dangerous, factors that need to be dealt with before anybody is going to want to bother crawling below deck just to check on the cargo.

[Image: SugaBom86/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."
  • Jeff Does this really surprise anyone? How about the shoes and the clothes you wear. Anything you can think of that is either directly made in China or has components made in China likely has some slave labor involved. The very smart phone, tablet, and laptop you are using probably has some component in it that is either mined or made by slave labor. Not endorsing slave labor just trying to be real.
  • Jeff Self-driving is still a far ways from being perfected. I would say at the present time if my car took over if I had a bad day I would have a much worse day. Would be better to get an Uber
  • 2manyvettes Time for me to take my 79 Corvette coupe out of the garage and drive if to foil the forces of evil. As long as I can get the 8 track player working...