Few Houston dealerships open in wake of Ike

Most of Houstonís auto dealerships appeared to be closed Monday as a lack of power kept employees and customers home while the nationís fourth-largest city began cleaning up after Hurricane Ike struck Saturday, Sept. 13.

Calls to dealerships often ended in voice mail, hurricane-related or ďall circuits are busyĒ messages. More than 4 million of the 5.6 million people in Houstonís metropolitan area did not have power today, along with many businesses and big corporations.

Only a few dealerships had power and could operate. Two of Houston-based Group 1 Automotiveís nine area dealerships were open, said Mike Chan, manager of Sterling McCall Acura in southwest Houston. And only one of Gillman Cos.í three Houston area complexes had power, said Rod Hall, south complex general manager for the dealership group.

ďTheyíre telling us it could be anywhere from two days to a month closer to the coastĒ to restore power, Hall said.

Officials from power provider CenterPoint Energy said the company had restored power to 500,000 customers, but about 1.6 million were waiting for lights to come on.

The corporate headquarters of Group 1 -- No. 4 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups, with 131,719 new vehicles sold in 2007 -- remained closed today.

Gillman ranks No. 60 on the dealership list, with 12,326 vehicles sold in 2007.

Houstonís 168,888 new-vehicle retail registrations in 2008 represent 2.5 percent of the 6.85 million new vehicles registered this year nationwide, according to R.L. Polk & Co.

Many dealership employees remained at their dark homes, boiling water, as authorities warned of a compromised water system. The city operated under a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

As dealers continued assessing damage, Chan and Hall said they felt lucky to have suffered little inventory damage. Chan reported only a light pole down and water damage to seven of the 250 cars on his lot. Only a few of Hallís cars suffered broken glass. His showroom had some water damage, although the streets around his dealership ďgot hit very hard,Ē he said.

ďThe major problemís been that my employees still donít have power or water,Ē Hall said.

One of his employees, who lives in the Gulfside town of Kemah, had his house blown off its foundation, Hall said.

Both managers said they had welcomed a few customers who were taking advantage of their time off work to shop for vehicles.

Reuters contributed to this report

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