As Florida dealers braced for Hurricane Irma late last week, battered stores in southeast Texas shifted into super-selling mode.
Desperate for transportation in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Houston-area residents suddenly became car buyers.
Local dealerships are handling the "abnormal" traffic consumers are bringing to stores as residents look to replace their vehicles, says Steven Wolf, chairman of the Houston Automotive Dealers Association.
Wolf, who is also vice president of Helfman Motors, says he expects sales at his five stores this month to outpace the year-earlier period by 40 to 50 percent because of the post-Harvey rebound. Helfman stores sell Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. vehicles.
Sales activity, he said, went from one extreme to the other in a matter of days.
When Helfman staffers returned to work Aug. 30 — the Wednesday after the storm made landfall the previous weekend — there was little activity. The next day, Wolf said, it felt like the "ice was thawing" as traffic began to trickle in. Then things went bonkers on the Friday ahead of Labor Day, Wolf said. The momentum hasn't slowed since.
Considering Houston's sheer size — the metro area is about the size of New Jersey — the sudden sales blast isn't too surprising. Wolf said people need to get around, so getting back into a vehicle is one of the first orders of business.
"People have moved past the 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do?' [stage] to 'Let's get a plan; we need to do this, this and this.' At the top of the list, it is, 'Let's get a replacement vehicle,'" Wolf told Automotive News.
While coastal Texas recovers from Harvey, Floridians were tracking Hurricane Irma. AutoNation Inc. planned to close 76 stores in the state late last week and rushed inventory to safe spaces. Many other dealerships in the region did likewise.
Irma is billed as one of the strongest storms ever, but it wasn't expected to cause as much vehicle damage as Harvey, which struck a more densely populated area, according to Cox Automotive. Cox estimated that vehicle losses during Irma's initial impact in the Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers-Naples areas would be 130,000 to 200,000 vehicles — far fewer than the 300,000 to 500,000 lost in the Houston area.