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Earthquake aftershock

Crushed: The devastation of the Christchurch earthquake is captured in this photo of a Subaru Impreza, taken near Nissan dealer Cockram Motors on the outskirts of the cordon-off area. Cockram staff assisted with the rescue of the occupant.

Car dealers physically and financially shaken by Christchurch earthquake

General News logo8 Mar 2011

By JACQUI MADELIN in New Zealand

AT LEAST six car brands remained affected by the Christchurch earthquake late last week, with Mazda, Holden, Nissan, Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota dealerships still inaccessible behind the cordoned-off ‘no go’ area of the city.

Only Holden managed to have its vehicles removed from the central business district in the wake of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

Holden’s premises are now being used as a base for those working on the collapsed six-storey CTV building, where about 90 bodies have already been recovered.

New Zealand remains in a national state of emergency after the February 22 quake and the CBD cordon will reportedly remain until all bodies that can be recovered have been removed.

Zones 1 and 2 at the west and east ends of the city were reopened on Sunday, and Civil Defence National Controller John Hamilton said that Zones 3 and 4 to the north of the CBD could reopen as early as Wednesday.

However, the so-called ‘Red Zone’ that covers more than a third of the city centre will remain off-limits.

 center imageLeft: Subaru Impreza left flattened after the quake. Bottom: Map of the cordoned-off zone of Christchurch.

Mr Hamilton said Civil Defence was working on a system to allow business owners access to sites in order to retrieve essential business materials to enable them to continue operating elsewhere.

Mazda NZ managing director Andrew Clearwater said the Blackwell Group’s Mazda dealership has been operating from its commercial centre in the suburb of Sockburn, where it has installed washing machines, fridges and caravans.

Mr Clearwater said all staff remain on full pay and those not needed on site have been working on clean-up teams.

NZ Motor Trade Association communications manager Ana Zandi said the financial outlook was grim for some dealers.

“Long term, some businesses will struggle to survive,” said Ms Zandi. “They cannot access their premises, which seem invariably to have been damaged, plus they are now trying to maintain a business without any cash flow.

“This is likely to be a significant problem for many, especially those without business interruption insurance cover.”

Ms Zandi said those businesses able to do so have pulled back to the suburbs, but many staff have been occupied with helping injured family members or are homeless.

Every distributor contacted by GoAuto said their staff wanted to get back to work, but sales may be slow until insurance payments arrive.

Independent Motor Vehicle Association CEO David Vinsen warned that post-insurance replacement took three months to kick in after the previous quake in September.

“The real concern is the length of time it might take to get back to normal trading conditions, and the longer-term threat of depopulation,” said Mr Vinsen.

Toyota NZ chief executive Alistair Davis said the motor industry may not see a drop in overall numbers but there may be a shift in the type of vehicles sold.

“We are inundated with demand for vehicles for construction and emergency work,” said Mr Davis. “And construction-related demand over coming months and years may compensate for a softer passenger-car market.”

Another factor will be how the government pays for the damage. A national levy will reduce available spending money, but an expected cut next week in the official cash rate could put more money in people’s wallets.

Dealers have also been busy since the quake processing an avalanche of orders for new car keys from people whose keys were left in office desks that are now under rubble.

As of early today, the National Crisis Management Centre advised GoAuto that some 13,000 dwellings in Christchurch were still without power, 16 per cent were without water and only half the city’s households had sewerage connection.

More than 10,000 houses in the city will need to be demolished and a further 100,000 have been damaged.

Of the 3000 buildings in the central city, some 45 per cent had been issued with yellow or red stickers, the latter indicating a building is unsafe, cannot be accessed and will need an engineer’s assessment to determine whether it needs to be demolished.

Power company Orion’s chief executive Roger Sutton did not put a timeframe on electricity reconnection to the CBD, saying it could take some time as many cables and junctions are buried beneath rubble.

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