Texas State Fair opening on hopeful note


High above the state fairgrounds — 55 feet high to be exact — stands Big Tex, the official greeter of the three-week State Fair of Texas, which kicks off Friday.
But nearby are the unofficial greeters of the fair: gleaming pickups hoisted high into the air to attract truck-crazy Texans to all that’s new under the sun. And it’s not all trucks: The fair houses the largest new-car auto show in the Southwest overall.
This year, things are looking brighter for Texas’ auto market as parts of the state hardest hit by low oil prices and natural disasters start the long road to recovery.
Early signs out of Houston and southeast Texas point not only to a quick rebound in sales of new and used cars, but also to an upward trend in coming months as residents replace hundreds of thousands of vehicles damaged by Hurricane Harvey and the resulting flooding.
Steven Wolf, chairman of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association, said there has been a big spike in customers streaming into dealerships after quick settlements with their insurance companies.
They are mostly looking for pickups and utility vehicles, since that’s about 70 percent of the market in Houston, said Wolf, dealer principal at two stores in the Helfman Motor Sales group.
“In our stores, there’s a lot of push for Jeeps, pickup trucks, F-150s, Explorers, Expeditions, Escapes,” he said. Some of the most popular Jeep and Ram trims are in short supply, but dealers in other parts of the country are forgoing inventory so that it can go straight to Houston.
Cooperation between lenders and insurance companies has sped up the process, with flood-damaged cars quickly being declared total losses so that titles are cleared and customers qualify for new loans.
“I’m surprised at how well the insurance companies and banks are working together,” Wolf said. “But remember, in Houston, Texas, we don’t have a tremendous amount of mass transportation, so people need to get a car so they get back to work and get their lives back to normal.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said this week that the medium-term outlook for the region is positive since Houston and the Gulf Coast are expected to recover quickly.
About 250,000 single-family homes were impacted by the storm, according to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Insurance Institute of Dallas estimated that damaged to homes and vehicles topped $20 billion.
Steve McDowell, owner of InfoNation, which compiles registration figures for the TexAuto Facts report, said a lot of the replacement cars will come from the used market since a sizable part of the affected Houston community can’t afford a new car and may have other damage-related expenses.
McDowell said title records for flood-damaged and junked cars haven’t jumped yet, but that’s likely to change as insurers work through a huge backlog of claims.
He thinks estimates of half a million to a million damaged vehicles are way too high, and puts the number closer to 300,000.
Fuente: Automotive News

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