Puerto Rico auto group optimistic about storm recovery
SAN JUAN – “We got hit hard, but we will continue forward, we are going to lift ourselves up and we will be stronger.” With those words, Ricardo García, president of the United Group of Automotive Importers of Puerto Rico (GUIA by its Spanish acronym), summarized the current and future situation of the local auto industry after the impact of Hurricane María.
On Sept. 23, García toured San Juan, as well as north and northeastern areas of the island to observe firsthand how the dealerships fared. He told Caribbean Business that he saw recently constructed ones in relatively good structural shape, although some had broken glass, damage to their signage and significant damage to secondary facilities. Some independent lots were left with high levels of destruction.
The official estimated that industry-wide structural and damage to inventory could reach “tens and tens of millions, if not if hundreds of millions.”
García, who is also the general manager of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, said that just a few days after the hurricane, the local auto industry had already resumed work.
“We understand that buy cars isn’t a priority now, especially with the gasoline shortage, but the industry is already moving toward restarting. Dealers may possibly begin opening by Monday [Oct. 2],” he said, referring to the dealerships for brands he distributes, which include U.S. makes Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Chrysler, and Italian brands Fiat and Alfa Romeo.
After the Category 4 hurricane, the banking industry took the first auto-market-related step. García praised the initiative of several banks and financial institutions that have granted their customers a moratorium on the payment of their auto leases and loans. These extensions will be available for up to three months for up-to-date, according to Reliable, Popular Auto and FirstBank.
Always an optimist, García sees the current emergency as a learning experience, and not just for the auto market.
“This hurricane taught us where we can keep improving in infrastructure, especially in electricity. A discussion about how to rebuild the electrical system should begin. Are we going to rebuild the same we had?” he questioned.