While Florence certainly has wreaked havoc on auto sales in the Carolinas -- first as a Category 1 hurricane, then as lingering rain and floods -- the scale of its damage is expected to be a fraction of what Hurricane Harvey brought to the Houston area last year, according to industry analysts.
Black Book, a vehicle-value tracking firm, estimates the coastal communities affected by the storm to have a population of about 325,000, which would be about 5 percent of the more than 6 million people who live in the Houston metro area. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the total population of coastal North Carolina at about 1 million, although the brunt of the storm hit the southeastern portion of the state.)
The company estimated Hurricane Harvey to have damaged about 450,000 vehicles. (An estimate from Moody's put the total at 400,000, and Cox Automotive said about 600,000 vehicles were damaged or destroyed.) All told, Florence is expected to have wrecked about 20,000 vehicles, said Anil Goyal, Black Book's senior analyst, who also cautioned that the aftereffects of the storm are continuing to develop.
While Harvey was a bit erratic, Florence's track behaved mostly how meteorologists had predicted, Goyal said. Dealers knew the potential damage was high, and many were duly shifting their inventory to higher ground or secure locations. This may have further reduced overall vehicle destruction.
Cox analyst Jonathan Smoke also noted in commentary preceding the storm that vehicle density in Houston and the nature of flooding there after Hurricane Harvey created a sizable loss. But vehicle density in the broad path of Florence -- from Savannah, Ga., to Norfolk, Va. -- is about half that of Houston. That area has about 9 million vehicles in operation, with a density of 162 vehicles per square mile, compared with 326 vehicles per square mile in the Houston area, Smoke said. Smoke estimated 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles potentially destroyed in the Carolinas.
"Our estimate has not changed," Cox said in an update Tuesday.
Another contrast: When Harvey descended on the Houston area, the auto market was in the typical doldrums of late summer, and the disaster jumped-started demand, especially for used vehicles. But this year, the market is different. "In this case, the market is actually very strong today," Goyal said. Sales will only be bolstered further, and pricing pressure likely will increase, especially in the region affected by the storm.