Some East Coast dealers say vehicle sales are picking up after Hurricane Sandy struck last month.
But they can't say the same yet about sales of finance and insurance products.
"The consumers are not asking for it," says Ed Barlow, owner of Barlow Buick-GMC in Manahawkin, N.J.
Barlow's store typically sells about 40 new cars a month. As of Nov. 16 it had sold 32 new vehicles, and November new-vehicle sales are on pace to be up by 50 percent compared with his 12-month average. Barlow says his used-vehicle sales are up about 15 percent for the same period.
Most of his sales gains come from storm victims replacing vehicles totaled in the storm. But F&I sales are up only "marginally" and that's OK with Barlow. Many customers only want to purchase what their insurance check covers for now, he says. So he won't push.
"It's a pretty traumatic deal when people come in the door," Barlow says. "So from our dealership standpoint, we're here to help them the best we can. We're more concerned with getting them in the car they want."
Chris Bell, finance director for Freehold Buick-GMC in central New Jersey, says for his area the emphasis is on cleanup. Down the road, though, he sees an upswing in sales of guaranteed asset protection, which pays the difference between what a customer owes on his or her car and what the car is actually worth if the car is totaled or stolen.
"Nobody leases cars like the Northeast, and all of those leases have GAP," Bell told Automotive News Special Correspondent Jim Henry last week. "Between the leases that will need to be replaced and cars that are totaled that have GAP … hopefully, this will be the beginning of a crush of demand for GAP.''
When dealers feel the time is right to re-emphasize F&I products, Larry Dorfman, CEO of F&I product vendor EasyCare, says his company can help them with the presentation. EasyCare is gradually increasing training for finance managers on how to boost F&I sales in the storm's aftermath by using real-world examples showing customers the value of products such as GAP.
EasyCare's training emphasizes that having GAP coverage when replacing a vehicle totaled in a natural disaster is a big help, especially for consumers already struggling financially from the disaster itself.
"We have been using that presentation since Katrina," wrote Dorfman in an e-mail to Automotive News. "It has a renewed level of interest by our trainers again due to Sandy."