Washington-area auto dealers report little impact so far from the two-week Teamsters strike against the nation's new-car transport industry.
Several area dealers warned yesterday, however, that they would begin to run out of certain models if the strike continues more than another week.
Virtually no new cars have been delivered to dealer showrooms since the start of the strike. But most of the area dealers contacted in a random survey said that they had previously built up a large enough inventory to accommodate their orders to date.
More than 20,000 Teamsters truckers walked off the job on July 26 after rejecting a new three-year contract endorsed by the union leadership. Talks are scheduled to resume today between the union and negotiators representing the car-hauling companies to resolve the strike, which industry analysts believe could last between three weeks and a month.
When the strike was called in July, the typical domestic-car dealer had a 58-day supply of automobiles, while the dealers selling imports had a 32-day supply, said Peter Lukasiak, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association.
This backlog has been enough to satisfy the vast majority of customers, dealers said. Some dealers also said the strike has even helped them to clear out inventories of 1985-model cars to make way for the 1986 models, which are expected in late August and September.
But they added that the strike already has dried up stock in certain "hot" models of cars in high demand -- models such as Honda Accords or Pontiac Grand Ams -- and delayed shipment to customers who have placed special factory orders.
"At the present time, with my current stock, the strike doesn't really cross my mind," said Walter Turner, sales manager at Pohanka, a Marlow Heights dealership that sells Oldsmobiles, Hondas and GMCs. At the beginning of the strike, his two stores stocked about 700 cars, which he said was enough to satisfy his monthly demand of about 250 to 300 cars.
However, Turner added, his inventory is depleting fast. "We go to 100 to 150 cars, and we're going to start panicking. That could happen in the next month and a half," he said.
"If it lasts much longer, it will affect all dealerships," said Peter Peluso, marketing director for Koons Ford. "In the long run, it's going to kill you, because you are going to run out of cars."
Joe DeGiorgi, the general sales manager at Century Ford in Rockville, said he had about a dozen Mustangs waiting at a depot in Jessup, Md. Other dealers said that they had anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent of their orders stuck in the pipeline. And for a few, the crunch already has come.
Al Shockley, who sells Hondas, Audis and Volkswagens in Fredericksburg, Va., said he has about 60 to 70 automobiles sitting at a port in Portsmouth, Va. "We have people waiting for these cars, and we are powerless to deliver them," he added. "I've been caught at a very low inventory level."
Shockley and other dealers said there was relatively little they could do except wait until the strike ends. Some dealers said they were stocking up on used cars in case of the worst-case scenario, while Peluso said Koons was going to adjust its advertising to the situation at hand.
But dealers said that they would probably not try to make alternate arrangements to bring cars from the plant or depot points for fear of antagonizing the union and bringing on physical damage to their merchandise.
The major auto manufacturers have not yet cut back on production because of the strike, but a prolonged walkout could cause them to slow assembly lines as supply lots become filled, dealers said. Even if the strike is settled soon, delivery of new 1986 models could be delayed, as manufacturers and dealers try to get rid of their remaining 1985 models first.
"Come September, you're really going to feel it," said Robert Fore, general sales manager at JKJ Chevrolet at Tysons Corner.