As flooding continues, the used-car industry is mobilizing efforts to handle ramifications from Hurricane Florence, which authorities say already has resulted in 19 deaths throughout the Carolinas.
From how to handle another swell of flood-damaged vehicles to what replacement demand might do to wholesale prices, AuSM reached out to an array of industry leaders and experts on Monday. DriveTime chief executive officer Don Reese might have summarized the entire situation when he said in a news release before Florence inundated parts of the Carolinas with nearly 30 inches of rain: “The safety of our employees and customers is our primary focus.”
Reese and managing director of retail Jamie Fischer spoke in a YouTube video on behalf of DriveTime and its affiliated finance company, Bridgecrest, with more than $6 billion in serviced auto contracts, sharing their Florence emergency response that includes assistance for impacted employees, customers and the communities where all reside.
Meanwhile, Insurance Auto Auctions chief executive officer and president John Kett described a similar sentiment via a letter sent to AuSM that mentioned in part, “We all have great concern for those in the storm’s … path.”
Kett also mentioned that in less than one week, IAA organized more than 1,300 trucks to transport vehicles, more than 400 dedicated IAA team members to assist with the effort and nearly 1,100 acres to store damaged units.
“The stats above truly illustrate the power of IAA’s operational grit, strength and the overall breadth of our organization’s capability. I am confident we are prepared to serve our customers in this time of need,” Kett wrote in a letter dated from last Thursday.
AuSM followed up with IAA and asked what unique challenges come from responding to a natural disaster in the Carolinas.
“In terms of Florence, we are facing two challenges as we respond, flood waters and lack of power,” Kett said in an message sent via email late on Monday afternoon. “Flood waters have completely cut off some areas, such as Wilmington, and our IAA Tow Network simply cannot safely access them today. Flood waters have also made some roads/highways inaccessible or have completely closed them down such as I-95 just north of Fayetteville, N.C.
If roads are closed, it is difficult for tow trucks to easily drive into certain areas which can increase the time it takes to pick up a vehicle,” he continued. “Simple lack of power creates all the usual issues, however communicating can also be difficult if cell phones cannot be easily charged.”
Kett also described the most important lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey a year ago that could help sharpen IAA’s management of Florence-related demands.
“The IAA Catastrophe Response team maintains a philosophy of continuous improvement,” Kett said. “One of the most critical lessons we learned from Harvey was specific to our tower assignment and dispatch process. IAA assigns specific vehicles to a tower based on their equipment and dispatches them to pick up and drop off vehicles at one of our facilities. The process, for IAA, had been historically manual and paper based. During Harvey, IAA had over 1,000 towers in operation and saw the potential for this manual process to create long wait times for towers.
“In the year since Harvey, we have worked diligently to fully automate our assignment and dispatch process, and today our towers utilize the IAA Tow App,” he continued. “This allows them to receive assignments and be dispatched to vehicles all via their web enabled phone or device. They no longer need to come into a branch to receive paper assignments.
“The Tow App also provides both IAA and our seller clients with real time data so we know when a vehicle has been secured as well as when and where it has been dropped off,” Kett went on to say. “There are several additional benefits to the new IAA Tow App including decreased cycle time for vehicle pick-up, improved data for insurance companies, and minimal downtime for towers.”
Meanwhile, Cox Automotive also shared an update on the status of its operations within Florence’s path. As of Monday afternoon:
• Manheim Wilmington is closed until further notice.
• Manheim Statesville: conducting regular business hours
• Manheim Charlotte: conducting regular business hours
• Manheim Darlington: conducting regular business hours
• Manheim North Carolina: conducting a digital versus in-lane sale on Monday
“In the wake of Hurricane Florence, Manheim is focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of our team members in affected areas,” said Tim Janego, Manheim regional vice president for the Northeast Region. Thankfully, we’ve accounted for all North and South Carolina team members.
“The Atlanta-based corporate human resources team is providing relief resources and information to those impacted by the storm, record-breaking flooding and loss of utilities,” Janego continued. “We’re also connecting Manheim team members to the Cox Employee Relief Fund (available through Manheim’s parent company Cox Enterprises), which offers immediate financial assistance for unexpected needs resulting from a disaster.
“In addition, Cox Automotive is committed to helping the American Red Cross with disaster relief efforts and invites team members and their family and friends, as well as clients to donate to American Red Cross relief efforts at https://www.redcross.org/coxauto-emp.
“While taking care of our people, we’re also assessing our clients’ inventory and communicating with dealers about the status of their assets and our business operations,” Janego went on to say while adding that clients can go to Manheim.com for more information.
An update from Auction Management Solutions indicated neither of its auctions near Florence’s path sustained damage, but each was impacted by dealer attendance for its weekly sales.
“The dealers (buying and selling) in the affected areas did not attend the sales so overall attendance was light, even online,” AMS said in a message sent to AuSM.
AMS added that Richmond Auto Auction (RAA) moved its anniversary sale to Friday, allowing dealers in the impacted areas to attend and source inventory.
RAA will be including a fundraiser for all those dealers and their employees impacted by Florence. Individuals can Wyatt Carter at [email protected] for more information.
The National Automobile Dealers Association reiterated its commitment to help employees of dealership members who might be impacted by Florence.
The NADA Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund provides financial assistance to dealership employees and their families who sustain personal property damage from the hurricane and potential floods.
To download the application for financial assistance, visit www.nada.org/emergencyrelief. For more information, call (703) 821-7102.
According to the latest news release from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, first responders have reported rescuing and evacuating 2,600 people and 300 animals from flooded areas so far, and rescues are ongoing in the Tar Heel State. Nearly 1,000 personnel from North Carolina and other states, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the National Guard and the Coast Guard deployed with more than 200 boats and several helicopters to conduct search and rescue operations, mostly in the southeast portion of the state.
Officials anticipate rescue operations to continue for several days.
Undoubtedly vehicles are being left behind as flooding continues. Cox Automotive distributed some early estimates of potential damage before Florence pushed ashore.
In a message to AuSM, Black Book reiterated that approximately 700,000 cars and trucks were either damaged or destroyed during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last year in the Texas and Florida regions. Editors pointed out this toll eventually led to an increase in the price of some used vehicles, as demand rose from people immediately looking to replace their damaged or destroyed vehicles.
Black Book noted that demand for cars, especially this summer already was causing prices to rise slightly even before Florence, so any rush to replace damaged vehicles could force prices higher in the near term. Last month alone, editors computed the average price of a used compact car was listed at $8,784, about 0.6 percent higher than the previous month.
Prices for midsized cars were listed at $10,341, about 0.8 percent higher than the previous month.
“Typically at this time of year, prices on those cars are seeing declines, not increases,” Black Book said.
For now, getting people to higher ground is taking priority.
“Flood waters are raging across our state, and the risk to life is rising with the angry waters,” Cooper said. “We are working now in doing everything we can to prevent more deaths.”
Editor's note: AuSM will update this report as developments arise.