Hurricane Michael poised to batter Florida with 145 mpg winds

Photo credit: Bloomberg

UPDATED: 10/10/18 12:59 pm ET – adds vehicle loss estimate

Hurricane Michael is barreling toward Florida’s Panhandle as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph, as many dealership owners in its path brace for what the National Hurricane Center is calling a “potentially catastrophic” storm.

As of 12:13 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said the hurricane is nearing the Florida Panhandle coast between St. Vincent Island and Panama City. The hurricane is about 35 miles southwest of Mexico Beach, Fla. and about 40 miles south of Panama City.

Maximum sustained winds are reaching 150 mph. The storm is expected to make landfall later Wednesday.

For more live coverage from The Weather Channel, click here.

Cox Automotive Industry Insights estimates the vehicle loss from Hurricane Michael will range from about 10,000 to 20,000 vehicles, as the quick-moving storm is set to hit an area of Florida that is not densely populated. That estimate is about half of the estimated vehicle loss from Hurricane Florence, which hit North Carolina last month.

Many dealerships in Panama City closed Tuesday to prepare for the storm, including Panama City Toyota, while Bill Cramer Chevrolet-Buick-GMC shut down around early Tuesday. CarMax also closed three stores in Tallahassee and Pensacola, Fla., and Dothan, Ala., by mid-Tuesday afternoon ahead of the storm.

Sonic Automotive Inc. operates Pensacola Honda and Audi Pensacola. Sonic President Jeff Dyke in a text message Tuesday said the dealership group was taking normal precautions for the two stores. He could not immediately be reached for further comment.

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A message on Pensacola Honda’s website said, “We will be closed Wednesday to allow our associates time to prepare for the storm and will reopen Thursday as soon as it’s safe for our team and valued customers.” Audi Pensacola’s website said the store was closed because of inclement weather.

Photo credit: National Hurricane Center

AutoNation closed its Ford Panama City dealership Monday night to give employees time to prepare for their own personal situations, said Marc Cannon, AutoNation’s chief marketing officer. AutoNation has a team on the ground that will be mobilized once the storm passes to begin the re-opening the store and working with the dealership’s associates, he said.

Group 1 Automotive Inc. also has stores in the Panama City area. A message was left seeking comment.

Logistics questions

So far, the Georgia ports of Savannah, which handles a large amount of imported auto parts, and Brunswick, a major facility for finished vehicles, remain open for business.

Class I railroad CSX notified customers is curtailing operations along the Florida Panhandle and into southeastern Georiga. CSX said shipments traveling between Penscacola, Fla., and Baldwin, Fla., and between Dothan, Ala., and Valdosta, Ga., will experience delays. Rival Norfolk Southern has not announced any changes so far, but did warn that some minimal rerouting of traffic away from storm areas may be required.

AutoNation, of Fort Lauderdale, ranks No. 1 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 329,116 new vehicles in 2017.

Sonic, of Charlotte, N.C., ranks No. 5 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., retailing 133,728 new vehicles in 2017.

Richmond, Va.-based CarMax ranked No. 1 by volume on Automotive News‘ list of used-vehicle dealers in the U.S. in 2017.

Eric Kulisch and Hannah Lutz contributed to this report.

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