Rarely does a catastrophic weather event have a positive impact, but a month after Hurricane Sandy hit, the car industry managed to close November on a high note.
Auto sales had their strongest month since the first quarter of 2008, according to Autodata. Domestic automakers had a slight increase in sales. Ford recorded a 6.5 percent increase and General Motors rose 3.4 percent over November 2011. Chrysler sales jumped 14 percent in November. It was still overshadowed by Toyota, which saw a 17.2 percent increase.
“We have seen it climb to a five year high which is pretty good,” said Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association. “In 2008, 17 million cars were sold across the country. During the recession, that went down to 9.5 million. We’re going to reach 15.5 million this year at this pace.”
That number is being helped in part by Hurricane Sandy. Schienberg revealed the storm was responsible for the destruction of 200,000 to 250,000 vehicles. It also helped deplete vehicle inventory in this region.
For many, replacing their cars has become a high priority. Car manufacturers have responded to the demand by adding Sandy-related incentives to their seasonal marketing package.
The holiday season is the time of year people are typically wooed by area dealerships through their promotion of year-end sales events. One seasonal commercial theme, the Happy Honda Days program, launched Nov. 19 and will run through Jan. 2. So far, it’s helped car sales increase. White Plains Honda saw a 15 percent increase in showroom traffic over the previous month, according to Finian D’Cunha, general sales manager for the store.
“There’s always a steal in the car business. It doesn’t matter the car or the month. We do whatever it takes to make a deal,” said D’Cunha, who has been in the car business since 1989. He said dealerships appeal to the need of the potential customer, which is why he believes the Sandy-related incentives are not just about helping people, but they’re good for business.
D’Cunha also noted the store’s Sandy vehicle replacement program has translated into 10 cars sold so far. “Most of the Hondas are not highly marked up, so if we have to save the customer an extra $500 to $800 then that’s what we do,” he said.
Like Honda, Toyota has also trimmed the cost of its vehicles to help put them within reach of those devastated by the storm. In addition to its year-end sales event, DCH Toyota City in Mamaroneck sold 10 cars connected to their post-hurricane program. Many of the people who took advantage of the program came from Long Island where inventory has been scarce.
Through the program, the dealership is offering customers no payments until 2013, no down payment, and zero percent financing. “We’ve had some great deals,” said Tom Muradian, new car sales manager. He also noted the dealership has seen a 10 percent boost overall which translated into 10 additional cars sold in the month of November.
Muradian claims the sales increase is partially due to Hurricane Sandy, but the economy also played a strong role. “There’s been a pent-up demand for new cars,” he said. “Because of the recession, people were keeping their cars longer – six, seven, eight years. Now they can buy.”
Muradian said, however, the looming fiscal cliff could also have a dramatic impact of those looking to buy a new car, so things could change.
Schienberg agrees the economy has played a significant role in customer spending habits. He said economists believe spending is tied to the perception of property values. It essentially “piques a consumer’s interest” when they feel that their home values have not gone down. Schienberg added that this year has been unusually strong for the car industry. Even before the storm or any announcement of year-end sales events, the greater New York area saw car sales exceed 37 percent in October compared with October 2011. The rest of the country only increased 18 percent in car sales that same month.