Hurricane Harvey tore through auto sales for August, a factor that helps explain the 1.9% drop compared with the same month last year.
Most automakers saw declines, Autodata reported. Hyundai was socked hardest, down 24.6% and Fiat Chrysler was off 10.6%. General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo posted gains for the month.
Although the industry was already operating at a lower pace than last year, the hurricane put a last-minute damper on auto sales as some dealerships on the Texas Gulf Coast were brought to a standstill. The region engulfed by the hurricane represents about 30% to 40% of Texas sales, which account for up to 9% of sales in the U.S., according to Barclays.
Still, the auto industry is looking ahead to the remaining months of the year when sales could be boosted by drivers who need to replace swamped cars and trucks. As many as one million vehicles were destroyed by the storm’s flooding, according to early estimates.
Kelley Blue Book slightly boosted its outlook for sales for the year, expecting buyers to start arriving at dealerships with checks from their insurance companies. Its analysts believe the industry is now on track to top 17 million new vehicles sold for the third straight year.
Automakers say they saw the same snapback in sales after past disasters that resulted in fleets of water-damaged vehicles that had to be replaced. In the case of Houston, the biggest beneficiaries will be to makers of pickup trucks and SUVs, the most popular vehicles there.
“Houston is the fourth biggest market in the U.S. and it’s …one that the Ford brand is very strong in,” said Mark LaNeve, a Ford vice president. “A lot of that has to do with a very rich truck mix.”
Nissan and its Infiniti luxury division are diverting more new vehicles to its 56 Houston-area dealerships, which are in various stages of recovery, said Judy Wheeler, Nissan’s U.S. sales chief. “We are prepared to do whatever they need us to do,” to help with the recovery, she said.
For the month, multiple major automakers managed sales increases, including General Motors’ 7.5% uptick and Toyota’s 6.8% increase.
Ford sales fell 2.1%, which was better than expected. But Nissan sales tumbled 13.1%, badly missing analyst forecasts. Wheeler described it as “not the easiest month.”