Hurricane Harvey may have destroyed 1 million cars—and changed the U.S. used auto market

As Harvey moved on and patches of blue sky finally appeared over Houston on Thursday, hundreds of car dealerships began reopening across the rain-soaked region — and at least a few were doing a brisk business.

By noon on Thursday, AutoNation Ford in Katy, Tex., had sold 30 new vehicles, mostly pickup trucks to contractors and other tradesmen who were scrambling to get to work repairing the devastation caused by the torrential rains and flooding.

“We have stores where the phone is ringing off the hook,” said Michael J. Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation, the country’s largest auto retailer, which owns 17 showrooms in the Houston area.

South of Houston, in Alvin, the Ron Carter group of four dealerships had customers coming in shortly after the doors opened at 7 a.m. “There are some people looking to buy,” said Cary T. Wilson, the owner of the franchises. “But you’re also going to have a long list of service work for people whose cars have water damage and need to get back on the road.”

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Harvey destroyed or damaging tens of thousands homes across hundreds of square miles in the Houston area and ruined a vast number of vehicles in a region that relies heavily on them.

As many as 500,000 vehicles — already on the road or still on dealer lots — will need to be replaced, according to an estimate by Cox Automotive, a research firm. That estimate, if confirmed, would be more than are typically sold in all of Texas in a year and exceed the combined losses from Hurricane Sandy (250,000) and Hurricane Katrina (200,000).

At McRee Ford in Dickinson, Tex., the entire stock of 500 new and used cars and trucks was damaged by water, according to a notice posted on the franchise’s website. “The inventory displayed here on our website and other sites on the web are no longer available for sale,” the notice said.

In a message on Facebook, the dealership’s owners said they were “beyond grateful” for the messages of concern they had received. “We have been in the facility today trying to get a grasp of the damage, and to be honest it’s a bit overwhelming,” the message said.

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