Hurricane Sandy's pummeling of the eastern seaboard will have a significant effect on auto sales, but analysts and corporate officials said Thursday they believe the industry will snap back quickly before the end of the year.
Industry analysts estimated that the storm cut U.S. sales by about 20,000 cars and trucks in October as buyers hunkered down for the storm.
The Nissan brand, which gets 27 percent of its U.S. sales from the Northeast, was hit particularly hard.
"It is absolutely a hurt on us," said Al Castignetti, vice president of the Nissan division. As of Wednesday, 65 Nissan dealers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were closed due to lack of electricity, and they account for 40 percent of the region's sales, Castignetti said.
Industry analysts were expecting an annual sales rate in October of 14.7 million to 14.9 million, but that was before Sandy hit Monday.
The storm could cut sales by 1 percent to 3 percent, or about 20,000 vehicles, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, an industry consulting firm. Schuster said any lost sales would likely shift to November, boosting totals for that month.
''Absolutely, positively a large quantity of vehicles were damaged. Dealerships are underwater, no power,'' Kurt McNeil, GM's vice president of U.S. sales operations, said Thursday. ''Having said that, we haven't quantified that yet."
In the meantime, McNeil said the company already has donated 50 vehicles to the American Red Cross for use in the disaster relief effort.
In past storms, sales were postponed, but they typically recover quickly after people's lives stabilized, said both Ford U.S. sales chief Ken Czubay.
He also said there were a "significant number" of vehicles damaged by flood waters, and that could also boost sales in November. "Typically after the insurance companies come in, people use those proceeds to buy new vehicles, which they need to get back and forth to continue their lives," Czubay said.
Volkswagen said one-quarter of its dealerships were affected by the storm, but it still delivered its best October in nearly 40 years at just over 34,000 vehicles. Sales were led by the Passat midsize sedan, which was up 66 percent.
At Nissan, the company said October ended on a down note with Sandy causing major disruption in an area where it has 225 dealers. The company's Nissan and Infiniti brands sold nearly 80,000 cars and trucks, down from just over 82,000 a year earlier.
Chrysler U.S. sales chief Reid Bigland, who doubles as head of the Dodge brand, said the company posted its 31st straight month of year-over-year sales growth even with the storm. Chrysler has revamped nearly all of its models in an effort to boost sales.
Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Nesvold told investors that Sandy could cost the industry sales of 100,000 cars and trucks in October.