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Change in 2012 from 2011:

  • U.S. trade deficit: Increased by $23.6 billion (48 percent) to $72.6 billion
  • U.S. exports: Increased by $28.2 billion (11 percent) to $285.8 billion
  • U.S. imports: Increased by $51.8 billion (17 percent) to $358.4 billion

The U.S. trade deficit in transportation equipment grew for the third straight year in tandem with the slow recovery from the economic downturn, as growth in U.S. imports of transportation equipment again outpaced growth in U.S. exports in 2012 (figure TE.1). The trade deficit in motor vehicles and parts ($137.7 billion) continued to drive the increased U.S. trade deficit in the sector, though it was partially offset by the growing trade surplus in aircraft ($71.1 billion). The United States had a trade deficit in transportation equipment with many of its leading trade partners in 2012, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany, and Korea, but maintained a trade surplus with China.

U.S. Exports
In terms of absolute value, the growth in U.S. exports of transportation equipment in 2012 was led by aircraft equipment, increasing $13.2 billion (16 percent) to $95.2 billion, followed by exports of motor vehicles, which rose by $6.2 billion (11 percent). U.S. exports of aircraft equipment, which accounted for 33 percent ($95.2 billion) of sector exports, grew largely on the strength of Boeing, one of the world’s leading large civil aircraft producers. U.S. exports of motor vehicles continued to recover from the economic recession, accounting for 23 percent ($65.7 billion) of total export value in 2012. Other leading exports in 2012 included motor vehicle parts, which rose by 6 percent, and construction equipment, which increased by 7 percent.

On a percentage basis, the largest increase in U.S. exports occurred in the ship, boat, and related products industry, which posted a 40 percent increase ($967 million) in 2012 to $3.4 billion. U.S. exports of floating or submersible drilling or production platforms led the increase, rising from nearly $22 million in 2011 to $912 million in 2012, likely reflecting greater investment in offshore oilfield development in response to higher global demand and prices.

figure TE.1  Transportation equipment: U.S. exports of domestic merchandise, imports for consumption, and merchandise trade balance, by selected countries and country groups, 2008–12

Canada remained the leading U.S. market for transportation equipment, accounting for 24 percent of U.S. exports in 2012, followed by Mexico with 11 percent. Motor vehicles and parts were the leading U.S. exports to these two markets, in large part because of the integration of the motor vehicle industry in North America spurred by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). China, Germany, and Japan rounded out the top five export markets for transportation equipment, representing 6 percent, 5 percent, and 4 percent, respectively, of U.S. sector exports.

U.S. exports of aircraft to China rose by nearly $1.6 billion (25 percent) to $7.9 billion in 2012, representing 45 percent of total U.S. transportation equipment exports to China. U.S. exports to Japan were also dominated by aircraft, which posted a strong gain in 2012, up 73 percent to $8.1 billion. U.S. exports to Germany, on the other hand, were led by motor vehicles and parts, reflecting the strong ties between the German domestic industry and U.S. “transplant” producers BMW and Mercedes-Benz, both of which have a localized supply network in the United States.

U.S. Imports


The largest contributors to the increase in U.S. imports of transportation equipment in 2012, in terms of absolute value, were the motor vehicle and motor-vehicle parts industries. Imports of these products rose by $171.6 billion (19 percent) and $69.6 billion (16 percent), respectively. These two industries accounted for a combined 67 percent ($241.2 billion) of total U.S. imports of transportation equipment in 2012. The continuing economic recovery, with improved consumer demand and credit availability, contributed to the growth in motor vehicle and parts imports as U.S. sales and production of motor vehicles both increased during 2012. U.S. light motor vehicle sales, for example, rose to 14.4 million units, up 13 percent from the 2011 total of 12.7 million units, and total U.S. motor vehicle production grew to 10.3 million units in 2012, up 19 percent from the 2011 total of 8.7 million units (figure TE.1). Other leading imports included certain internal combustion engines (up 9 percent, or nearly $2 billion) and aircraft (up 12 percent, or $24.1 billion).

As with U.S. exports, U.S. imports of ships, boats, and related products posted the greatest percentage shift in 2012, increasing by 44 percent ($610 million) to $2.0 billion, largely driven by imports of floating or submersible drilling or production platforms. Imports of these goods increased more than fivefold to nearly $600 million in 2012, likely in response to increased investment in offshore oil drilling spurred by growing demand and higher prices for oil, as previously noted.

FIGURE TE. 1  New passenger vehicle registrations reached a four-year high in 2012

Many leading U.S. export markets in 2012—specifically Mexico, Canada, Japan, and Germany—were also the major sources of U.S. imports, with Korea rounding out the top five U.S. import sources. These five countries have strong ties to the U.S. motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts industries through transplant production or regional industry integration. They accounted for 77 percent ($277 billion) of total transportation equipment imports in 2012 and 84 percent ($201.8 billion) of total motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts imports.

Imports from NAFTA partners and Japan account for the majority of U.S. imports of motor vehicles and parts. Mexico was by far the leading source of U.S. imports of certain motor-vehicle parts in 2012, accounting for 38 percent ($26.6 billion) of total U.S. parts imports, and Canada provided another 14 percent ($9.9 billion) of such imports. These two NAFTA partners were also among the three largest sources of U.S. imports of motor vehicles in 2012, in addition to Japan. U.S. imports of motor vehicles from Canada, the leading U.S. supplier, rose by 18 percent to $47.2 billion in 2012, and accounted for 28 percent of total motor vehicle imports. U.S. imports of motor vehicles from Japan increased by 25 percent to $39.7 billion, reflecting the industry’s ongoing recovery from the severe effects of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in early 2011. U.S. motor vehicle imports from Mexico increased as well, by 16 percent to $35.7 billion.

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