Mixed Fortunes For Knoxville Motor Industry Since April’s Storms

4 12 2011

Businesses are still dealing with the good and the bad effects caused by the freak weather, several months on from the hailstorms.

The Knoxville auto industry is still dealing with the effects of April’s severe storms, and the impact has not been positive for everyone.

“Frankly, it’s been a nightmare,” said Gilbert Lusk, the manager of Lusk Body Company, who estimates the number of hail damaged cars in the Knoxville area could be as high as 125,000.  “We still have a backlog of cars and trucks that we are committed to repair.  I suspect we will be doing some hail damage repair even a year from now.”

Lusk grew up working in the business his father started in 1955, taking over as manager when his brother died in 2003.  He describes April’s storm as the worst he has ever seen in Knoxville and the time since has been hard on the company.

“It just drains you physically, mentally, and financially,” he said.  “It’s just been frustrating and we’d all like for it to be over with.”

‘Good for business’

On the other hand, the hailstorm has boosted business for the Knoxville car rental industry.  Enterprise Rent-A-Car has particularly benefitted as it is the only car rental firm located in downtown Knoxville.

“You can never have too much business, but it was a stressful time,” said Jonathan Anderson, the branch manager.  “You don’t want to say it’s a good thing but it’s good for business.  We want the business but I’d rather have got it from just normal day-to-day activities.”

Anderson’s branch lost 15 cars from its own car park to hail damage and many more that were already rented out to customers.

“What we did was very quickly got what the surrounding states had,” he said.  “Other Enterprises in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, even as far away as Texas just got trucks on the way.  They would load up the haulers, 10 to 15 cars on a truck and just as fast as they could were sending them.”

Enterprise had to turn some customers away in the weeks that followed the storm.  Anderson said it was a stressful time and took two to three months for the demand to calm down.

“Your business and the expectation and demand of your customers goes up 1,000 percent,” he said.  “You would choose a number that would seem ridiculous and it was so much higher than that as far as the demand went.  I heard about 30,000 insurance claims were made in Knox County alone.  There’s not that many rental cars, obviously.”

‘That difficult’

For Gilbert Lusk, the decision he faces if a storm as severe as April’s ever hits Knoxville again is not whether his company will be better prepared.  The decision will be whether the company gets involved at all.

“I’m not sure if we’d get involved in hail repair ever again,” he said.  “It’s been that difficult.  If I have a weak moment again in the future and something like this occurs again, I’d have to sit and think about it for a long time.  But I’m not sure we could ever do it again.”

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