It didn't matter that some Florida car dealerships were without power and water. They were back selling cars last week.
Just hours after the rain and wind from Aug. 13's Hurricane Charley died down, automakers and insurance companies had employees on the ground in central Florida surveying damage to dealerships and cutting checks.
While it will be weeks before the full impact is known, many of the 300 car dealerships in the eight counties that Charley pummeled hardest resumed business on a limited basis by:
George Werner says he will continue to pay his employees even though his Punta Gorda Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership remains closed for major repairs. PHOTO: DAVID HALL
Employees help clear debris from Palm Toyota, part of Palm Automotive Group, in Punta Gorda. The building was a total loss. Palm Automotive lost between 500 and 700 new vehicles. PHOTO: DAVID HALL
The hurricane's 145-mph winds blew the roof off Marlow-Werner Pontiac-Buick-GMC Truck in Punta Gorda, Fla. Some debris landed on new vehicles. PHOTO: DAVID HALL
Vehicles on the lot of Sun State Ford in Orlando were hit by flying debris. PHOTO: JUDY TRACY
Although many dealerships were selling cars again, it likely will take weeks before their service, parts and body shop operations are up and running.
Greenway Ford in Orlando, one of Ford's highest volume stores in southeast Florida, closed for five days and lost an estimated $1 million in sales, said dealer Frank Rodriguez. His insurance coverage wouldn't cover all the losses, he said.
Running on generator power, the dealership reopened Tuesday, Aug. 17. Eighty dealership employees waited for hours at a Home Depot store and were allowed to buy one generator each.
"The folks with Ford Credit and American Road Insurance Co. (Ford's insurance subsidiary) were on the ground the very next day," Rodriguez said. "They've always been quick to respond."
Greenway Ford escaped with minor dents and dings compared with Charlotte Lincoln-Mercury and the Palm Automotive Group, which sells Toyota, Chevrolet, Mazda, Chrysler and Hyundai. Both dealerships are in Punta Gorda, about a mile from Charlotte Harbor where the storm came ashore. Both stores were blown apart, and nearly all their inventory was damaged or destroyed.
Palm lost between 500 and 700 vehicles. Charlotte Lincoln-Mercury lost about 275 new and used cars.
'Out of business'
"We are going to be out of business awhile," said Ed Howard, owner of the Lincoln-Mercury store.
"The structural engineers said most of the showroom has to be replaced. But we've got a trailer and generators rented." Howard said he hoped to resume selling cars out of the trailers this week.
Anne-Beth Nemeroff, spokeswoman for JM Family Enterprises, which owns Southeast Toyota Distributors, said her company learned the importance of helping dealerships respond quickly to natural disasters after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 caused $15.5 billion in damage in south Florida. Charley's damage estimate may come in as high as $14 billion. The storm left 23 dead.
As soon as Southeast Toyota learned that Palm had been hit, it made arrangements to send two trailers. And on Aug. 14 - the day after the storm - many of the 260 employees who work for Palm came to work to help clean up, said Brett Helphenstine, whose family owns the business.
"It's pretty much a team effort," Helphenstine said.
George Werner, owner of Marlow-Werner Pontiac-Buick-GMC Truck in Punta Gorda, had a similar view.
"Other dealers have been very kind," Werner said. "It's the kind of a deal that you meet neighbors for years that you never met. Everyone becomes galvanized in helping each other."