“Everyone wants to get back to business as normal,” says John Andrini, sales manager at Quality Ford in Rutherford, NJ, a town battered by Hurricane Sandy.

The dealership got back on its feet and brought back vehicle inventory that had been moved to higher-ground storage areas. It is selling and servicing cars again.

Many residents need to replace or fix their hurricane-damaged vehicles. Quality Ford’s message to them?  “We’re here for you and have some pretty good deals,” Andrini says.

That includes 0% financing and extra Ford incentives to storm victims.

In addition to contributing money and supplies to relief aid, several auto makers are offering incentives ranging from discount pricing by Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to Hyundai’s 90-day deferred payments to Nissan’s employee pricing.

Recovery, cleanup and replacement of flooded vehicles consumed dealerships after Sandy hit in late October. Fifteen states were affected. Among the hardest hit were New Jersey and New York.

Most New Jersey dealers were affected by the storm, says Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

“Nearly all dealers lost power for some period of time. Out of 515 dealers in the state, about 24 experienced serious property damage,” he tells WardsAuto.

Dealers moved their stock to higher ground, but sometimes that didn’t help. “Unexpected storm surges in Bergen and Hudson counties resulted in inventory loss at locations that don’t typically flood,” Appleton says. About 1,000 dealership cars were lost.

Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn., says 60% of its 435 dealers reported damage ranging from power outages to facility and vehicle damage.

“We don’t know of anyone who’s gone through this kind of storm, or seen one this ferocious in anyone’s memory,” Stuart Rosenthal, association vice president, tells WardsAuto. “The historic proportion of this storm and the multiple communities affected is the most severe people have experienced in their lifetimes.”

Schienberg says his members account for about $25 billion in annual sales and $2 billion in sales-tax revenue for the State of New York.

Manhattan Ford lost 200 vehicles stored on a pier. Toyota estimated 4,000 to 4,500 of its vehicles were destroyed as they waited on a pier for delivery to dealerships.

Business could improve in the long term as customers return to replace or repair vehicles, says Mark Calisi, president of Eagle Auto Mall, a 6-brand facility on Long Island that was hard-hit.

The storm’s intensity still amazes him. “Parts of New York looked like bombed-out London in World War II.”

Calisi commends Chevrolet and GM for their post-storm concerns. Chevrolet staffers called his cell phone when the store phones were down.

“They simply reached out to see if we needed anything,” he says. “They didn’t ask about our numbers or sales. They just wanted to know how I was, my family and employees, and if they could do anything for us. They get an A-plus as far as I’m concerned.”

Sovereign Motor Cars in Brooklyn was badly affected. Owner Alan Feldman closed his Mercedes-Benz business the first week. But the bad weather wasn’t over. A post on the dealership website said: “A nor’easter is on its way, bringing high winds, coastal flooding and SNOW. How are you preparing?”

Jeremy Grant, sales manager for Audi Meadowlands in Secaucus, NJ, says the main order of business after reopening was to help customers get their damaged vehicles fixed or replaced.

Like other brands, Audi is offering low financing and discounts to storm victims buying new vehicles.

“It was surreal for a couple of days here,” Grant says. “(Now), customers are looking for good buys. Our mentality is that we’ll make up in volume for any lower grosses.”

Customer insurance claims generally are being settled quickly according to manager reports, says service manager Bill Vanderberg.

“We’ve been helping people (in the communities) as much as we can. Everyone has pulled together to do what we can,” Grant says.

Dealer trade groups such as the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Assn. kept information flowing throughout the crisis. They say their actions could serve as a guide in future weather disasters.  Their efforts included:

  • Sending ongoing storm alerts and emergency action plans.
  • Addressing employee pay rules, insurance coverage for weather-related business interruptions and obtaining federal assistance.
  • Explaining the Department of Motor Vehicle process for performing off-line inspections or delivering vehicles.
  • Stressing the importance of keeping employee contact numbers and e-mails on hand.