Stranded fliers buy vehicles to get home

Mike Hutchins, a project engineer attending a conference in Las Vegas, was still trying to comprehend the tragic events of Tuesday morning when it hit him. He was stranded.

His Wednesday flight home to Detroit had been cancelled after the Federal Aviation Authority grounded all air transportation and the rental car companies he approached did not want to rent him a vehicle that would be dropped off 2,000 miles away.

So on Tuesday morning, he walked into Fairway Chevrolet in Las Vegas. That afternoon, he and a colleague hit the highway in a 2000 full-sized Chevrolet truck with 15,000 miles on its odometer.

Destination: home.

"I knew that in a couple of months I was going to buy one anyway, and I wanted to get home," said Hutchins, from his cell phone Thursday afternoon. He had driven 2,000 miles and was still about 20 minutes away from home.

Terry Hoisington, general manager of Fairway Chevrolet, said the $24,000 truck that Hutchins purchased was one of about 50 vehicles that the dealership sold last Tuesday, the day of the attacks, Wednesday and Thursday, to people who said they were buying the vehicles just so they could get home.

He said the out-of-town customers made arrangements to have insurance documents faxed to the dealership. They were given drive-away tags that were good for 20 days.

Hoisington said he believes that the city's popularity as a convention destination helped fuel those sales.

"It's amazing what people do when they have to," he said.

Hoisington said most of the sales to out-of-towners were used sedans in the $10,000 to $13,000 price range, but he also sold a few new Suburbans, Tahoes and vans.

Las Vegas dealers were not just selling vehicles to consumers who wanted to get home; they "dealer-traded" vehicles to colleagues who needed to get home, too.

United Nissan in Las Vegas delivered 68 Nissan vehicles, including 28 Quest minivans, to Nissan dealers and their families who were stranded in the city after attending the Nissan North America dealer show last week, said Don Forman, the dealership general manager.

He said many of the vehicles held more than one family and were destined for as far away as New York and New Jersey.

"We dealer-traded them the vehicles at no profit to us; they'll pay us when they get back home," Forman said. "We gave them a full tank of gas and a map to get them started."

You can reach Arlena Sawyers at asawyers@crain.com

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