NEW YORK - The first big winter storms of the new century clobbered auto dealers and factories along the Eastern Seaboard early last week, curtailing sales and forcing brief production shutdowns from Georgia to Maine.
By week's end, the havoc had spread inland. New storms that dumped up to 10 inches of snow on Oklahoma City and freezing rain in Dallas disrupted auto sales and production. And more severe weather was promised for the Southeast for the weekend.
Lexus of Oklahoma City closed at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 27, as nine to 10 inches of snow fell there, said service consultant Mark Biggs. Schools closed, and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety said on Friday, Jan. 28, that travel was 'strongly discouraged.'
The dealership opened Friday, nevertheless. 'People need service now more than ever,' Biggs said. 'People also come in in weather like this to test out the four-wheel-drive. It's good weather for that,' he said.
'It's no fun,' said Volvo dealer Mike Martino, dealer principal of Mike Martino's Village Volvo in Bel Air, Md., north of Baltimore. 'It's a part of the business. It happens every year, but it's still no fun.'
More than a foot of snow fell on his dealership on Tuesday, Jan. 25. As the snow was falling and piling up, though, Martino and thousands of other dealers and managers were in Orlando, Fla., for the National Automobile Dealers Association annual convention.
'When I got back, the front lot looked like something in Alaska,' he said, with snowdrifts as high as the trunk lids.
'Every single car, you have to dig them out, start them, move them, push them, get rid of the snow and put them back. And there's always that one car that won't start.'
Chip Ott, owner of R&S Imports Ltd. (Mercedes) in Fort Washington, Pa., said his crew used a front-end loader to pile up a snowbank 12 feet high and 20 feet long behind his dealership.
Several automakers lost all or part of a day of production because workers couldn't get to work and suppliers had trouble delivering parts. Most plants were back to work by Wednesday, Jan. 26, though, and they should be able to make up lost production by tacking on extra units later.
'There could be some short-term effects on certain regions, but on a nationwide basis we're not looking at this as a major long-term effect,' said George Pipas, Ford Motor Co. manager for sales analysis.
Some examples of how the weather has affected various companies:
BMW AG: The plant outside Spartanburg, S.C., that makes the Z3 Roadster and the X5 sport wagon missed one night shift, on Jan. 24, and more snow and ice were expected for the weekend.
BMW of North America Inc. headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., remained open all last week. Land Rover North America Inc. headquarters in Lanham, Md., was closed Jan. 25 and 26, but spokesman Mark Schirmer said many executives came in anyway.
DaimlerChrysler: The Newark, Del., plant, which makes the Dodge Durango, closed at 11 a.m. Jan. 25 and reopened for the second shift on Jan. 26, said spokeswoman Megan Giles. Running with two shifts, the Newark plant builds 564 units a day, she said.
The Mercedes M-class plant in Vance, Ala. was open all week through Thursday, but three to five inches of snow fell overnight from Thursday to Friday. The factory sent Thursday's late shift home early and started a full shift two hours late Friday morning, said spokesman Trevor Hale. Because of an earlier storm, Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. headquarters in Montvale, N.J., closed on Jan. 25 but reopened the next day.
Ford Motor Co.: The Edison, N.J. plant, which makes the Ford Ranger and Mazda B-series pickup, missed two shifts on Jan. 25. The Norfolk, Va. full-sized pickup truck plant missed part of the day Jan. 25 and Jan. 26.
'One of the problems was getting trucks in and out, and of course we're concerned about the safety of our workers coming and going,' said Ford spokesman Ed Lewis. Volvo Cars of North America Inc. headquarters, in Rockleigh, N.J., closed on Jan. 25. Jaguar Cars North America, in Mahwah, N.J., closed early that day.
General Motors: Its Baltimore plant, which makes the Chevrolet Astro and the GMC Safari, was closed for both shifts Jan. 25 and 26, said spokesman Dan Flores. The Linden, N.J., plant, which makes the two-door Chevrolet Blazer, GMC Jimmy, Chevrolet S10 and GMC Sonoma, also missed a total of two shifts, one on Jan. 25 and one on Jan. 26. Arlington, Texas, which makes the Cadillac Escalade and GMC Denali, missed a couple of hours of production, Flores said.