Car dealerships around Galveston County are rebounding from severe losses during Hurricane Harvey as consumers seek to replace storm-damaged cars.
“We average about 300 units a month,” said Howie Bentley, owner of Classic AutoGroup Galveston. “We are on pace to do 780 this month.”
Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County, but in the 72 or so hours that followed, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of the county, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the county. And it also flooded thousands of cars.
McRee Ford and the Gay Family Auto dealerships, both in the hard-hit Dickinson area, each reported that more than 700 of their cars were submerged in floodwater and had to be removed from inventory.
“There was water in every building,” said Kevin Lardie, general manager of Gay Buick GMC.
Gay Family Auto’s two dealerships, Buick GMC and Kia, were flooded along with about 700 of their cars, Lardie said. Fire damaged one of the dealerships’ buildings when an electrical short ignited a car during the storm, Lardie said.
McRee Ford also lost about 700 cars and the dealership sustained about $35 million in damage from Hurricane Harvey.
But, while the storm was an unmitigated hardship, the dealerships are now returning just as demand for cars is soaring.
“The demand is incredible with the number of vehicles lost in the storm,” said Mitchell Dale, whose family has owned McRee Ford since 1947. “The market is very, very brisk.”
Gay Family Auto opened about a week after the storm and has to consolidate some of its operations as its buildings are repaired, Lardie said.
“The good news is, we will reap some of the benefit of a good car market for several months,” Lardie said.
Hurricane Harvey hit as car dealers everywhere were reporting slower sales this year, said RoShelle Salinas, public relations director at the Houston Automobile Dealers Association.
“It hasn’t been down over the past couple of months, but it hasn’t been a big year,” Salinas said.
Classic AutoGroup Galveston sales had been down about 5 percent this year, Bentley said.
“It hasn’t been real slow,” Bentley said. “We’d had some consistent customers.”
Although sales slowed even more as dealerships shut down in anticipation of Harvey, owners and managers now have several months of strong sales ahead of them, Salinas said.
“They told me they forecast this to happen until March of next year,” Bentley said.
Other experts predict increased car sales through the end of 2017 into the first quarter of 2018, Salinas said.
Car manufacturers across the county have shipped cars to myriad dealerships in the Galveston-Houston area to try to capitalize on the car market, Salinas said.
“We’re getting more inventory daily,” Dale said. “We are basically going all over the country trying to find inventory — trying to do what we can to meet the customer’s needs. Our used inventory is totally gone. But yesterday, we had 54 new car sales, but only one had a trade-in vehicle.”