Feb. 20 – AUGUSTA – As local auto dealerships roll out Presidents Day sales incentives, they continue to face severe inventory and parts shortages as they experience long wait times related to the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chain.
Andy DuPont, vice president of sales at Charlie’s Motor Mall on Western Avenue in Augusta, said shortages fueled by supply chain disruptions are affecting sellers who sell every brand of auto, domestic or foreign.
“With Nissan, for example, there were months when they canceled all of their orders, or three-quarters,” DuPont said. “Or right now, the new Pathfinder, they canceled orders for two months.”
DuPont also said orders were arriving inconsistently. If someone orders specific options, like a sunroof on a Pathfinder or heated seats on a Ford Escape, vehicles may arrive without the items or with only part of what was ordered.
The vehicle shortage worsened recently when a freighter carrying around 1,300 luxury automobiles – Porsches, Audis, Bentleys and Lamborghinis – caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday as it was heading from Germany to the Rhode Island. Since then, the 60,000 ton ship, still on fire, has been drifting near the Portuguese islands of the Azores.
A fire at a factory making giant microchips in Japan has also exacerbated problems for automakers already waiting for electrical components used in cars and trucks.
Tom Brown, president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association in Augusta, said from what he’s heard the microchip shortage has surprised many automakers and dealers.
“When the pandemic first emerged, it was expected that there would be less demand for new vehicles, but the reverse has happened,” Brown said. “While people were staying home or had to stay home at the start of the pandemic, there were citizens buying all kinds of electronics that required microchips, so production was shifted.
“The auto industry thought their (sales) would be a bit lower, while other electronics, such as phones and computers, thought theirs would be a bit higher, so computer chip orders went up. “
The pandemic has also slowed vehicle manufacturing and shipping as workers or truck drivers have fallen ill with COVID-19 and missed large amounts of work, according to industry reports.
“The industry has not been immune to COVID-19,” Brown said. “Employees get sick. Their family members get sick. If they are exposed, they have to go away for a while. Employee absenteeism is not because they want to be (out of work). It’s because they have to be.”
Chris Accord of Accord Auto & Self Storage at 530 Main St. in Richmond compared it to baking a cake: If eggs are missing, a cake can’t be made. If a manufacturer that makes key fobs can’t get parts, the automobile can’t be finished, delivered, and sold.
“Everything flows,” Accord said. “If you have a truck, there can literally be a thousand parts. If you can’t get one (part) to complete that truck as a whole, you can’t sell it. That’s what’s happened to a lot of of vehicles.”
He said business for Accord Auto, which sells used vehicles, has been tough during the pandemic. The dealership went from having a “lot of good-sized cars to a very, very small lot of used cars.”
Finding used vehicles is no longer easy, according to dealers. With fewer people trading in automobiles due to shortages of new cars and trucks and soaring prices, most used automobiles now come from auctions.
Accord said he struggles to find used automobiles that meet his dealership’s standards for condition and mileage.
“It started with COVID-19,” he said. “I had a full inventory and I was selling two cars and replacing them with one. Then I was selling four and replacing them with one. Then I was selling eight and replacing them with one. and I can’t replace it with the kind of inventory I like to sell.”
According to reports, many used vehicles are selling for around the same price as new models due to low inventory of used automobiles.
DuPont said the low supply of cars and trucks is causing some customers to settle for models they had no intention of buying.
Craig Drew from Drew’s New to You! at 319 Eastern Ave. in Augusta said he had similar issues maintaining inventory for his sale lot. One solution was for him to buy vehicles from other states.
“We haven’t had a lot of people selling their cars to us,” Drew said. “Because we’re a small dealer, we’re having trouble finding inventory. We searched the country. We searched as far as California. Normally we stay local, but last year we had to search. We use local auctions here in Maine.”
Many customers looking to buy new or used automobiles in central Mainers said the search was difficult.
Liz Tibbetts of Pittston said she and her husband ordered a Ford Bronco in October 2020 and have yet to take delivery. She said buying a vehicle was “very difficult”.
Dave Colvin, also of Pittston, said he resorted to buying a vehicle in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, auto dealers in central Maine said they have no idea when the shortage of new and used autos is likely to improve.
“Everything I’ve heard keeps getting pushed back,” Accord said. “Six months ago they said in three months (that would be fixed). And three months ago they said three more months. That’s what it is. We’ll know once that will go better.”