State’s vehicle replacement program has no details; more an effort to ensure supply
September 6, 2023, 5:29 PM HST
* Updated September 6, 9:35 PM
Photos of burned cars in gridlock on Front Street, and on other roads and in driveways in Lahaina, show another big loss for fire survivors: their transportation.
Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green announced on Tuesday a “vehicle replacement program” that he said was another “priority need” for fire survivors, whose immediate housing needs were being met with the up-and-running Hawaiʻi Fire Relief Housing Program.
The news release announcing the program said interested individuals can contact national companies Hertz, Avis-Budget or Enterprise about rental cars for purchase — or “reach out to any local Maui automobile dealership for more details.”
But those rental car companies and Maui dealerships reached on Wednesday said they did not know anything about a vehicle replacement program.
On the Hertz website link provided in the news release, it goes to a page about purchasing used rental cars, but there is no mention of the program.
“We donʻt know anything about it, but our phones are ringing off the hook with people asking about it,” said a car sales person at Hertzʻ office in Honolulu. “We are trying to find out whatʻs happening.”
The Hertzʻ sales person said the Maui office that sold used rental cars (at 946 E. Mokuea Place in Kahalui) has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
A sales person at Enterprise cars sales said the closest dealership to sell its rental company’s used cars is in Redwood City, Calif.
Byron Aloy, who is on the sales team at Kīhei Auto Sales, said he also did not know anything about a vehicle replacement program: “Not yet. I’m anxious to hear more about it.”
Eric Hofer, general sales manager at Jim Falk Automotive Group and Valley Isle Motors, said: “We know nothing of this program, because there is no program. It’s them supporting big business.”
In the news release, it said the governor has worked with Hertz, Avis-Budget and Enterprise to make additional vehicles available for purchase on Maui.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation said in an email that these vehicle sales would be at market rate.
The reason for the state’s coordination with the rental cars companies was to “ensure availability” of vehicles for people who needed them.
Hertz told HDOT it could supply 1,300 rental cars for purchase on Maui. Avis/Budget said it could supply 600. And Enterprise provided this statement to HDOT: “Enterprise is working closely with dealers on Maui to make sure cars are available for the residents of Maui that were impacted by the fires.”
Melissa Pavlicek, the new executive director of the Hawaiʻi Auto Dealers Association, said supply of vehicles no longer is a problem on Maui, with the supply-chain issues that occurred during the COVID pandemic mostly solved.
“I believe that the automobile dealers will be able to adequately satisfy the demand,” she said. “But I understand that there are rental cars available [for purchase] and we just want to cooperate to the fullest that we can and make sure Maui drivers are able to access vehicles.”
Hofer and Aloy agreed vehicle supply was not a problem on Maui. Hofer added that several people have come to his dealership to sell their cars or trucks because they are leaving the island.
And, with the drastic loss of tourists across the island due to the fires, most rental cars at Kahului Airport are parked in nearby fields, as they were during the tourist shutdown in 2020 for the COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug. 20, it was reported that there were about 17,000 of the 20,000 available rental cars at the airport not being used.
“Right now, they [the state] mentioned it was partnering with rent-a-car companies because the vehicles were just sitting,” Aloy said. “But we don’t know how a program would work with us.”
Gov. Green’s office did not supply more details about the program, instead referring questions to the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Insurance Division and the rental companies mentioned in the news release.
William Nhieu, communications director with the Department of Commerce an Consumer Affairs, said its Insurance Division simply provided information for the news release to encourage people to submit a claim for any fire or storm damage to their vehicle — if they had comprehensive coverage (also known as “other than collision”) on their automobile insurance policy.
Filing a comprehensive claim as quickly as possible is recommended so a person can use claim proceeds “to purchase a replacement vehicle from a car dealer, a private seller or from this recently released pool of rental cars.”
It is unclear how many cars were destroyed in the fires of Aug. 8. While there have been damage assessments done on the number of structures lost in the fire, with more than 2,200 reported, there does not appear to be an agency that has kept track so far of the number of destroyed cars.
Spokespersons for FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency (which is doing the hazardous material cleanup) and HDOT said they do not collect data on destroyed cars.
Nhieu said the Insurance Division also did not know the number of vehicles destroyed by the fires, nor the number of vehicles without comprehensive coverage on Maui.
Pavlicek, with the Hawaiʻi Auto Dealers Association, put it delicately that the announced vehicle replacement program is “perhaps not as formalized as one would want when you use the word program.”
But she added that some Maui dealerships have been helping out fire survivors with their own programs.
Hofer said Valley Isle Motors, which has been in business for 100 years on Maui, has partnered with Ford Motor Company for special pricing on new Fords as part of its Maui Wildfire Relief Program.
“It is better pricing than an employee at the dealership could get,” Hofer said. “And in some cases we are even offering 0% financing.”
He said the dealership also is offering discounts on pre-owned cars.
“We’ve already sold cars to people who have lost theirs in the fire,” he said. “A lot of people who walk in our doors, we know.”
Aloy said Kīhei Auto Sales, which only sells pre-owned vehicles — although some are “almost like new,” has been offering fire survivors’ “family and friends’ discounts.”
“Weʻve had a few customers like that already,” he said. “We take $500 to $1,000 off the asking price. We want to help so it’s a no-brainer for us.”
For more help with transportation for fire survivors, there also are these options:
- American Red Cross: Register by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Funds can potentially help families offset transportation costs.
- FEMA: For uninsured losses, FEMA Individual Assistance may be able to help people who have lost an essential vehicle in the fires. In general, the vehicle must have been operable and legally registered, as required by state law, at the time of the fires. Register by calling 1-800-621-FEMA. By law, FEMA is not allowed to pay for losses covered by insurance.
- US Small Business Administration: Homeowners and renters may borrow at low interest from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which provides disaster loans to replace damaged or destroyed personal property, including cars. For more information, go to https://www.sba.gov/hawaii-wildfires.
For questions about an automobile or homeowners claim, people can contact the Hawaiʻi Insurance Division at 808-586-2790 or visit http://cca.hawaii.gov/fireclaims.