Long Islanders restrained their appetite for vehicles in August, when they registered about the same number of new cars and trucks as a year earlier, figures from a local dealer association show.

The results trailed those for the 12-county region studied by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, where registrations rose by more than 6 percent in August from a year earlier. The region includes Nassau and Suffolk, New York City's five boroughs and five northern suburban counties.

For the month, registrations rose 6.7 percent in Nassau County, while they fell 5 percent in Suffolk.

Local economists in the past have attributed the differing performances to generally lower incomes and overall wealth in Suffolk, in part because its population is younger and in part because Nassau residents can more easily commute to Manhattan, where job growth has been stronger than on Long Island.

For the year to date, Nassau registrations were up 1.6 percent over the same period last year, while Suffolk's were flat in January through August, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Overall retail sales so far this year, as measured by sales tax receipts, also show a similar pattern. In Nassau, tax receipts rose by nine-tenths of a percent in the first nine months of this year from a year earlier, versus a one-tenth of a percent increase in Suffolk, the state Department of Taxation and Finance said. Statewide, the increase in sales tax receipts was 3.82 percent. In New York City it was 3.79 percent.

Chief economist John Rizzo of the Long Island Association, a business organization, said statistical anomalies could be at work distorting the August vehicle numbers. "I would take more stock in the year-to-date figures because they are always less 'noisy,' " he said. At the same time, he said, the stronger increase in Nassau could be a sign of some rail and bus commuters switching back to cars amid falling gas prices. Nassau residents are generally more likely to use public transportation to commute.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Long Islanders registered 19,902 new vehicles in August and 147,199 from January through August. Nationally, sales, which approximate new registrations, were flat in August compared with a year earlier, but up 3.8 percent in the first eight months.

Industry analyst Jesse Taproot, of the California-based Taproot Consulting Group, said August was a weak month mostly because of conflicting signals about the economy and the turbulence in the stock markets. "Consumers typically don't like making big-ticket purchase decisions when there are a lot of economic uncertainties," he said.

Since August, he said, the nation's new-vehicle market has improved.

The Long Island registration figures were analyzed by a consultant to the dealer group, based on data from IHS Inc. of Englewood, Colorado.