Buffeted Dealers Prepare to Sell Cars Again

Florida dealers remain optimistic and resilient despite having facilities damaged, showrooms shut down and an absence of customers following three hurricanes in six weeks. Hurricane Ivan, the latest monster storm, while not directly hitting Florida, spawned several tornadoes along the western part of the state in mid September. Thomas Dart, president of the Automobile Dealers Assn. of Alabama, says

Florida dealers remain optimistic and resilient despite having facilities damaged, showrooms shut down and an absence of customers following three hurricanes in six weeks.

Hurricane Ivan, the latest monster storm, while not directly hitting Florida, spawned several tornadoes along the western part of the state in mid September.

Thomas Dart, president of the Automobile Dealers Assn. of Alabama, says destruction from Ivan wasn't as severe as feared, even though his state suffered a direct hit and plenty of damage.

Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida on August 13, damaged an estimated 7,000 inventory vehicles and many dealerships. Ford Motor Co. estimates 15,000 sales were lost because of Charley.

Several damaged dealerships reopened from makeshift facilities. Ben Freeland, owner of Harbor Nissan in Charlotte Harbor, says his facility was hit and now is doing business from a trailer.

“We had some damage,” says Chris Saraceno, vice president of the Melbourne-based Kelly Automotive Group. “Some palm trees were ripped out, roofs were damaged a little.”

Kelly personnel took precautions to protect its vehicle stock from the approaching mega-storms.

“We moved as many vehicles as we could into the showrooms and service departments, and tucked them in tight,” Saraceno says.

Staffers surrounded the rest of the outdoor retail inventory with wholesale inventory to protect new cars from flying debris.

Several dealers didn't get their power back following Frances which hit the state over Labor Day weekend. Kelly Ford finally had its electricity reinstated on Sept. 15.

“Mentally, people still aren't back, though,” says Saraceno. “Half of our employees had damage done to their homes.”

Saraceno expects October to be a big month for sales after September was a wash, in more ways than one.

Meanwhile, AutoNation Inc., which owns 67 dealerships in Florida, lowered its earnings guidance for the third quarter from 38 cents a share to 33 cents because of the storms.

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