Replacement cars in demand after Sandy

Cars damaged by superstorm Sandy are being stored Cars damaged by superstorm Sandy are being stored on these 53 acres of town-owned land in Calverton. (Nov. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

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Superstorm Sandy is providing a windfall for some local new car dealers as thousands of vehicles totaled by the storm are replaced.

While the storm flooded and knocked out electricity to many dealerships, some retailers say their biggest problem now is getting enough new and used cars to sell.

"Business is booming," said owner Gary Schimmerling of Babylon Honda in West Babylon. "Considering how much devastation there was, everybody is looking for cars."

He says his new car sales this month probably will total 200, double what he normally would sell in November. Used car sales, he predicted, would be more than double the normal for November -- or about 100 cars.

In Inwood, general sales manager Frank Gonzalez of Five Towns Nissan, says his store won't see a big increase because he's short of product. Flooding that left as much as 3 feet of water in his showroom ruined 670 cars, he said. Replacements are only now starting to arrive. "If we had inventory -- our normal allotment -- we'd be having a phenomenal month," he said.

Owner Michael Villani of Garden City Jeep Chrysler Dodge in Hempstead says his new vehicles sales will be up about 85 percent this month over normal, at about 240 units. "We've been on fire all month," he said. He could sell more, he said, if he could get more Jeep Grand Cherokees and four-door Jeep Wranglers -- and if he had more sales and support employees to handle more volume.

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But, he added, he lost a lot of service business for six days after Sandy struck because his power was out and he couldn't get a generator powerful enough for the shop. He said he was able to continue selling cars with power from two small, household generators.

He and Schimmerling said they're trying to get more used cars because they're getting fewer trade-ins, with many customers' previous cars totaled.

The additional sales augment what has been a growth year for local dealers; through September, the last month for which numbers are available, Long Islanders purchased about 143,600 new cars and trucks, up 3.2 percent from a year earlier, according to registration figures from R.L. Polk & Co.

No one knows yet how many vehicles were damaged by the storm, but the National Automobile Dealers Association estimates about 250,000 -- fewer than the 330,000 lost from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Executive director Mark Schienberg of the 400-member Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association estimates that 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles were damaged or destroyed on dealer lots in its coverage area, which includes Long Island, the five boroughs and the northern suburbs but not New Jersey or Connecticut. Thousands more new vehicles owned by manufacturers and stored on docks in New Jersey and Brooklyn also were lost, Schienberg said.

He says that, while many are enjoying a spike now, dealers lost sales in late October and in the first week or two of November as people prepared for and rode out the storm, then found their lives dominated by power outages, gasoline shortages and storm damage cleanup. Sandy made landfall Oct. 29. Industry analysts for the Kelley Blue Book, an auto information provider, estimated that 200,000 new vehicle sales were lost in October because of Sandy.

Villani notes also that not everyone who lost a car had an insurance policy that covered the loss or, if the damaged car was an older model, got a settlement large enough to buy a new car.

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