Dealers in the Florida Panhandle and Southwest Georgia continue to struggle toward normalcy after Hurricane Michael whipped through this month.
"We sold our first truck today," Chris Cramer, of Bill Cramer Chevrolet-Buick-GMC in Panama City, Fla., said last week. "It felt better than the last thousand."
Among the dealerships in the storm's path, stores concentrated in the Gulf Coast town of Panama City were hit particularly hard.
Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10 near Mexico Beach, Fla., as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 155 mph, making it the strongest storm on record to ever hit the Florida Panhandle. At press time, 48 deaths had been attributed to it — 33 in the U.S. and 15 in Central America.
Like others in the area, Cramer was running his Panama City store on generator power as repairs were being made to his roof, windows and a wall that had been knocked out by the hurricane. Cramer, who owns the store with several family members, figured he had another two weeks of cleaning and remediation ahead of him."I'd love for us to be getting it again within next 30-60 days," he said of normal operations. About a third to half of the store's inventory has been damaged, and most of that will be totaled.
Worse, at least 20 of Cramer's 130 employees lost everything in the storm, he said. "And I would say half or better of all of our employees are displaced in some shape or fashion," Cramer said. The dealership is helping them apply for relief funds.
To that end, Florida Automobile Dealers Association President Ted Smith was headed down Interstate 10 from Tallahassee on Friday, Oct. 19, to begin distributing funds to dealerships' employees in Panama City, as well as Marianna, Fla., a small town to the north.
It's part of the Florida Automobile Dealers Charitable Foundation, which the association launched after Hurricane Charley hit the state in 2004.
Smith said the generosity shown in wake of the latest storm has been swift, with dealers and their employees throughout Florida making contributions.
Cramer noted the strong sense of community in the hurricane's aftermath.
"Our colleagues, they've reached out and they're not willing to just sell inventory," he said. "They're willing to send their people, they want to write checks to our employees. And it's really awesome to see that in our industry."
Michael struck about a month after Hurricane Florence hit the coast of North Carolina. Florence, which directly caused at least 30 deaths, was a weaker Category 1 storm, but its slow movement and torrential rain caused extensive flooding. Dealerships in the Carolinas reported significant vehicle and facility damage as a result. However, Florence's slow progression gave dealers time to move a lot of inventory to higher ground before the storm hit.
Speed and strength
Michael, on the other hand, moved more quickly, and the sheer strength of its winds caused extensive damage.
Ford Motor Co. confirmed significant damage at stores in Florida and Georgia, and said at least three — AutoNation Ford Panama City, Chipola Ford in Marianna, Fla., and RiverBend Ford in Bainbridge, Ga., north of Tallahassee — remained closed Friday, Oct.19. It is not clear when they'll reopen.
Bay Lincoln in Panama City was also heavily damaged, Ford said.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said there was severe damage to Bay County Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram. The group's owner could not be reached for comment. FCA said about a dozen of its other dealerships in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama had minimal damage, which included roof leaks, broken windows and the loss of exterior building signs.
Taking the brunt
Panama City likely received the brunt of Michael.
John Lee, owner of John Lee Nissan, John Lee's Panama City Mazda and a used-vehicle store in Panama City, said all his stores were damaged. He expects three of seven buildings will be salvageable.
A temporary roof was installed on his Nissan store and he hopes to reopen there by Nov. 1. He is hoping to move his heavily damaged Mazda store to the used-car location.
Photos shown of the damage include insulation, piping and pieces of roofing material all over the inside of the Mazda dealership. Mazdas in the showroom can be seen covered with debris. Windows appear to have been blown out and blue sky was visible through what once was the roof of the dealership.
About 25 of his employees are showing up daily for cleanup efforts, and Lee was able to pay employees last week.AutoNation Ford Panama City, which is in a Florida Panhandle town hit particularly hard by Hurricane Michael, hopes to reopen in a few weeks.
"We continue to pay our people," he said. "People that can are coming into help."
AutoNation Ford is hoping to reopen in a few weeks, operating out of trailers, Marc Cannon, chief marketing officer for AutoNation Inc., said in an email to Automotive News.
A trailer for used-car sales is slated to arrive this week, and power could be restored by Wednesday, Oct. 24, Cannon said. Once the store is ready to open, banners will be used to notify the public.
AutoNation continues to pay dealership employees and has begun to assist them with emergency cash, gift cards and other support, Cannon said. Many of the employees' homes have been damaged by the hurricane, and the company launched an employee and corporate matching campaign to help colleagues impacted by the hurricane.
Not all dealerships in Panama City were badly damaged.
Group 1 Automotive Inc. has reopened its two stores in Panama City — Honda of Bay County and Volkswagen of Panama City — said Group 1 spokesman Pete DeLongchamps.
"We actually sold a few cars I believe Wednesday," he told Automotive News.
The two dealerships fared well in the hurricane, he said, with buildings suffering some fascia damage and there was some sign damage. Inventory was minimally impacted. The stores remained without power late last week and were being run by generators.
Said DeLongchamps: "We're selling cars to people who lost their vehicles."
Source : http://www.autonews.com/article/20181022/RETAIL07/181029945/dealers-in-florida-and-georgia-rebuild-after-hurricane-michael1106