AUGUSTA — As local automobile dealerships roll out sales incentives tied to Presidents Day, they continue to face severe shortages of inventory and parts as they endure lengthy wait times tied to the COVID-19 pandemic’s influence 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 deal in all brands of automobiles — domestic or foreign.

“With Nissan, for instance, there were months where they canceled all of their orders, or three-quarters,” DuPont said. “Or right now, the new Pathfinder, they canceled orders for two months.”

Andy DuPont, vice president of sales at Charlie’s Motor Mall on Western Avenue in Augusta, says automobile shortages fueled by supply chain disruptions are affecting sellers who deal in all brands of vehicles — domestic or foreign. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

DuPont said orders are arriving inconsistently, too. If someone orders specific options, such as a moonroof on a Pathfinder or heated seats on a Ford Escape, the vehicles might arrive without the items or with only some of what was ordered.

The vehicle shortage was worsened recently when a cargo ship carrying about 1,300 luxury automobiles — Porsches, Audis, Bentleys and Lamborghinis — caught fire Wednesday in the Atlantic Ocean as it steamed from Germany to Rhode Island. Since then, the still-burning, 60,000-ton ship has been adrift near Portugal’s Azores islands.

A fire at a giant microchip manufacturing facility in Japan has also exacerbated problems for automobile manufacturers already awaiting electrical components used in cars and trucks.

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Tom Brown, president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association in Augusta, said based on what he has heard, the microchip shortage came as a surprise to many automobile manufactures and dealers.

“When the pandemic first came about, it was anticipated there would be less demand for new vehicles, but the opposite happened,” Brown said. “As people stayed home, or had to stay home in the early parts of the pandemic, there were citizen purchases of all kinds of electronics that require microchips, so production got shifted.

“The auto industry thought their (sales) would be a little less, while the other electronics, such as telephones and computers, thought theirs would be a little more, so orders for computer chips went up.”

The pandemic has also slowed vehicle manufacturing and shipping as workers or truckers have gotten sick 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. Members of their family get sick. If they get exposed, they have to be away for a while. The 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 the eggs are missing, a cake cannot be made.If a manufacturer that makes key fobs cannot get parts, automobile cannot be completed, delivered and sold.

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“Everything trickles down,” Accord said. “If you have a truck, there literally can be a thousand parts. If you can’t get one (part) to complete that truck as a whole, then you can’t sell it. That’s what happened to a lot of vehicles.”

He said business at Accord Auto, which sells used vehicles, has been been tough during the pandemic. The dealership has gone from having “a good-sized car lot to a very, very small used car lot.”

A row of Jeeps is parked Thursday at Charlie’s Motor Mall on Western Avenue in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Finding used vehicles is no longer easy, according to dealers. With fewer people trading automobiles due to the shortage of new cars and trucks and skyrocketing prices, most used automobiles now come from auctions.

Accord said he has struggled 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 would sell two cars and replace it with one. Then, I would sell four and replace it with one. Then, I would sell eight and replace it with one. Now, I’m down to a handful of vehicles, and I can’t replace it with the type of inventory I like to sell.”

Many used vehicles are selling for almost the same price as new models because of the meager inventory of previously owned automobiles, according to reports.

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DuPont said the low supply of cars and trucks is causing some customers to settle for models they did not intend to buy.

Craig Drew of Drew’s New to You! at 319 Eastern Ave. in Augusta said he has had similar problems keeping inventory on his sales lot. One solution has been for him to buy vehicles from other states.

“We haven’t had a lot of people sell their cars to us,” Drew said. “Because we are a smaller dealership, we are struggling to find inventory. We have searched the country. We have searched as far as California. Normally, we stay local, but in the past year, we’ve had to search. We use local auctions here in Maine.”

Many customers looking to buy new or used automobiles in central Maine said the search has been 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.

Meantime, automobile dealers in central Maine said they have no idea when the shortage of new and used automobiles is likely to improve.

“Everything I’ve heard keeps getting pushed back,” Accord said. “Six months ago, they said in three months (it would be corrected). And three months ago, they said three more months. It is what it is. We will know once it gets better.”


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