LI cars sales up but outpaced nationwide

Sonny Rahim, a sales consultant at a Suzuki,

Sonny Rahim, a sales consultant at a Suzuki, Subaru and Volkswagen dealership in Riverhead shows Steve Demaddis, of Port Jefferson, a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta. (Feb. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Car sales rose last year on Long Island, but the gains lagged the rise in sales nationally.

Reasons for the lag included the tough economy on the Island, and the brands of car favored here.

New vehicle registrations rose by 4.3 percent in Nassau and Suffolk last year from the year before, to 184,385 cars and trucks, according to new figures from the Michigan auto data firm R.L. Polk & Co. Nationally, vehicle sales rose by 10 percent last year, to 12,778,885, according to the trade paper Automotive News.

The pattern of weaker growth held in December; registrations locally rose by 2.9 percent, while sales nationally rose by 9 percent.

Economist Pearl Kamer of the Long Island Association, a business group, cited continued declines in home values here and net losses of jobs in the past eight months over the same period a year earlier. The Island had 200,000 fewer employed workers in December than a year earlier, or a total of 1.34 million.

"We are lagging the national economy coming out of the recession," said Kamer.

The popularity of Honda and Toyota vehicles is another factor in the relatively weak local figures, said president Mark Schienberg of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association. Both carmakers have struggled with product shortages from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan -- and later flooding in Thailand -- that interrupted production. "Even though GM, Ford and Chrysler picked up," said Schienberg, "they didn't pick up by the kinds of numbers Toyota and Honda would normally sell."

New Honda registrations on Long Island fell by 14 percent last year from 2010, according to Polk, to 23,682 vehicles. New Toyota registrations fell by 13.3 percent, to 17,260. Almost every Detroit brand gained last year, according to Polk, led percentagewise by Jeep with a 54 percent increase in new registrations, to 10,555.

At Babylon Honda in West Babylon, owner Gary Schimmerling said he was short all summer of Accords and CR-Vs. "July, August and September -- it was just a killer," he said. "Right now, we're starting to see more and more cars, thank God."

In December, new Honda registrations were off by 28 percent locally, while sales were off 19 percent nationally. John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president of sales, said in a statement in early January, "Although we still had low inventory in December, our production levels are now back to normal."

Honda remained the bestselling make on the Island last year, according to Polk, but Nissan, which saw a small gain in new registrations, displaced Toyota for second place.

South Korea's Hyundai and Kia brands also gained on Long Island last year, with registrations up by 20 percent and 59 percent, respectively, to 14,714 and 3,517 vehicles.

Ted Lucki, co-owner of Riverhead Ford-Lincoln and Riverhead Toyota, said the small Ford Focus, redesigned for the 2012 model year, accounted for much of his sales increase last year. In the Toyota store, he said, sales were flat in December but inventories had recovered.

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