Puerto Rico Auto Industry Back on Track
“We were dealt a devastating blow, but we will go forward, we will rise and become stronger.” With those words, Ricardo García, president of the United Group of Automobile Importers of Puerto Rico (GUIA by its Spanish acronym) summarized the actual and future situation for auto deals in the aftermath of Hurricane María.
As soon as two days after the hurricane hit on Sept. 20, García went through sectors of San Juan in the northern and northeastern parts of the island, visually inspecting dealerships along the route. In a telephone interview with Caribbean Business, he said he saw everything from recently built or remodeled brand-only dealerships that held up well structurally, but with damaged glass and signage, to traditional, independent lots with high degrees of destruction.
On an industry level, the executive estimated that damages in structure and inventory, including parts and vehicles, could reach “tens and tens of millions of dollars and perhaps hundreds.”
García, who also is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ (FCA) general manager for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, said that soon after the storm, the local auto industry was on its feet to restart business. In fact, by Monday, Oct. 2, two FCA dealerships were already back in service. By now, four of the 11 dealers that FCA has on the island, are back at work.
Likewise, other brands have several or all of their dealerships back in either full or partial operation. Such is the case of Mitsubishi, whose 18 lots across the island are all working, offering sales and/or services.
All of Ford’s nine dealerships are operational. Public Affairs & Communications Manager Vivian Dávila added that the only local dealer for Ford’s luxury marque, Lincoln, San Juan Lincoln, is also open.
Another brand with a high percentage of working dealerships is Kia. Lynnette Veguilla, Kia’s marketing manager in Puerto Rico, said 12 of the brand’s local dealerships are open and 11 are offering both sales and service. “There’s a strong attitude to pick themselves up among dealer owners and their teams,” she said. Likewise, Nissan has 12 of 18 dealerships running.
Mazda’s Priscila Vélez, mentioned that six of the Japanese brand’s stores are back in business. The sales and marketing director also offered information on parent company Bella Group’s other brands and said Honda has three lots open in San Juan, Caguas and Bayamón, as well as Acura on Kennedy Avenue and Flagship Volkswagen and Chrysler in Bayamón.
Hyundai de Puerto Rico Marketing Manager Juan Rivera said 13 of its 19 stores are open. “We are hard at work to have the whole network operational,” he said. To reach that goal, Rivera mentioned that the brand is working closely with each dealership by providing temporary facilities. “We have rented air-conditioned trailers that are being used as dealership offices and will provide others with large tents.”
Subaru’s sole store in Puerto Rico, on San Juan’s Kennedy Avenue, is open as well. Sales Director Lilliam Portalatín explained that the dealership, Trébol Motors, is open for sales and service from Monday to Saturday.
Also on Kennedy Avenue is Gómez Hermanos, which carries luxury brands such as Porsche, Jaguar, Audi, Land Rover, Maserati and Ferrari, as well as Hyundai de San Juan. Marketing and public relations Manager Andrea López de Victoria indicated that all brands are open daily for parts, service and inspection of damages for insurance claims from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Other luxury brands that are also open are Mercedes-Benz (Garage Isla Verde), Infiniti (Ambar Infiniti), Volvo (Volvo Puerto Rico), and BMW (Autogermana).