Instead of seeing increased showroom traffic for Presidents Day sales last week, dealers in the Northeast were shoveling their lots and digging inventory out of the snow.
The worst blizzard to hit the region in seven years closed dealerships for two days as some cities declared driving illegal. Although many dealers had substantial sales declines, total storm losses may not be known until the end of the month.
"It was a storm of historical proportions," says Peter Cronin, general manager of Acura of Boston in Brighton, Mass. "We probably did about half of what we'd normally do."
Cronin did not notice a change in buyers' attitudes. But he says when his inventory was cleared, most people were off the streets and "probably at home with a cup of cocoa."
Mark Schienberg, executive vice president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association Inc., says that when he asked a New York City dealer how many cars were sold early in the week, he was told two.
"I don't think there were any sales; it's just that people were digging out over two feet of snow throughout the whole area," Schienberg said last week.
Monday and Tuesday were almost a total loss for most dealers in Maryland because it was illegal to be on the streets, says Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland New Car & Truck Dealers Association. Some dealers reported roof damage as Maryland was belted with 49 inches.
But one dealer saw an upside to the storm. "A lot of people were looking for four-wheel-drive vehicles and snowplows," says Steve Lober, the Internet sales manager at Al Packer Ford in Baltimore. "They were interested in Escapes, Explorers - anything that had a plow on the front."
Many dealers throughout the Northeast are planning to be open extra days to make up for the missed sales.
"I still haven't seen a return to normal, but we're up and running," said Angelo Casarola, general manager of Difeo Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Jersey City, N.J., on Thursday, Feb. 20. "We're able to get to our product now, and the snow has been cleared away."