Long Islanders went on a car buying spree in April, registering almost 20 percent more new vehicles than in the same month a year earlier, new figures show.
Nassau and Suffolk motorists registered 19,335 new cars and trucks in the month, auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co. said in a monthly report produced for Newsday.
Local economists theorized that many Long Islanders who postponed new vehicle purchases during the recession now are being forced to replace aging cars and trucks.
But one Hofstra University economist was surprised at the size of the increase, which was twice the rate of the national car sales increase in April. "There are so many negatives that are hurting average wage earners," said Martin Melkonian, adjunct associate professor of economics, citing wage stagnation, underemployment and a decline in the quality of new jobs on the Island.
Overall sales tax receipts for April rose by only about 2 percent on Long Island from a year earlier, according to state figures.
Every major auto brand scored gains in April over a year earlier, the Polk figures showed, with Ford's the most impressive -- 43 percent, to 1,404 vehicles. A company spokeswoman had attributed strong gains in March to leases of Fusions, Escapes and Explorers. Ford had surged ahead of Hyundai in popularity on Long Island in March. Another strong local gainer in April was Nissan, with registrations up by 36 percent from a year earlier to 1,997 cars and trucks.
At Atlantic Nissan in West Islip, general manager Chris Assmar attributed the gains partly to three redesigned models introduced in recent months -- the Pathfinder, Sentra and Versa -- and also to a variety of special incentive programs.
One allowed current Nissan lease holders to trade in their cars three months before their leases expired. Another rewarded repeat lessees with customer loyalty rebates ranging from $500 to $4,000. "So you could take the customer out of their lease early and in most cases keep the payments the same or reduce them," he said.
Honda and Toyota showed more modest gains in April from a year earlier. Registrations of Hondas, the Island's most popular brand, rose by 12.7 percent to 2,546 vehicles, while Toyotas rose 10.4 percent to 1,931 cars and trucks.
Hyundai was up by less than 1 percent for the month, to 1,325 vehicles.
Nationally, new vehicle sales rose by 9 percent in April, to about 1.3 million vehicles, according to the trade paper Automotive News.