US auto sales down in August as Harvey hurts demand

Hurricane Harvey took a toll on U.S. auto sales in August, but the storm could boost sales this fall as people replace flooded vehicles.

U.S. sales of new cars and trucks fell 2 percent in August, according to Autodata Corp. Harvey hurt demand in the Houston area — the ninth-largest vehicle market in the nation — cutting U.S. sales of new cars and trucks by an estimated 20,000 vehicles, forecasting firm LMC Automotive said.

Not everyone reported bad news Friday. General Motors said its sales rose 7.5 percent compared with last August. Toyota’s were up 7 percent and Volkswagen’s rose 9 percent. All three automakers reported strong sales of SUVs.

But Hyundai’s sales plummeted 25 percent. Nissan’s sales dropped 13 percent and Fiat Chrysler’s sales were down 11 percent. Ford and Honda both saw sales drop 2 percent.

U.S. auto sales were initially expected to increase slightly in August compared with a year ago, breaking a seven-month streak of sales declines. U.S. sales are plateauing after reaching a historic high last year, but August had one more business day than last year, and buyers were getting good deals on popular outgoing models like the Toyota Camry as new models hit dealerships.

Sales will likely pick up soon because people with damaged cars will need to replace them quickly. In the month following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, vehicle sales in the New York area jumped 49 percent, said Jonathan Smoke, the chief economist for Cox Automotive, the parent company of Kelley Blue Book.

Smoke estimates that 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles will need to be replaced as a result of Harvey. That demand will help automakers, who can move their excess inventory to Houston. But lower inventory in the rest of the country will mean consumers will be less likely to find good deals, Smoke said.

Until last Saturday, August was shaping up to be a strong month at the eight Bayway Auto Group dealerships that Darryl Wischnewsky owns in the Houston metro area. Then came Harvey. None of Wischnewsky’s dealerships suffered flooding or other damage in the storm, but he says he’s seen other dealers up and down the freeways lose all of their inventory and their buildings have been damaged.

His group, which includes Lincoln, Chevrolet, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen and Volvo dealers, shut down last Saturday as the storm approached and just started reopening on Thursday. Losing the Saturday alone probably cost 60 to 70 sales, Wischnewski said.

“Just that one day in Houston,…

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