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8 of 10 new cars registered on LI are foreign brands

A cleaner works in a showroom prior to

A cleaner works in a showroom prior to the start of the day to promote the latest model of the Honda CR-V in Jakarta. (Feb. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Nearly eight out of 10 new cars and trucks registered on Long Island in December had foreign nameplates - an unprecedented high percentage, as some Detroit Three dealerships closed and the troubled economy steered more buyers to cars perceived as more fuel efficient.

The figures do not, however, reflect the impact from Toyota's growing recall and public relations troubles, which have been in the headlines since January.

Newly available figures for Long Island, from Michigan-based R.L. Polk and Co., show 14,039 new cars and trucks registered in December. Of those, Asian brands accounted for 58.6 percent, up 6.9 percentage points from three years ago, with European brands holding a slightly increased 20.9 percent. The Island's combined foreign share, 79.5 percent, compares to 53.7 percent for the nation.

Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of the auto information Web site Edmunds.com, attributes the rising foreign share in part to the phase-outs of Pontiac and Saturn over the past year and, more telling, to a trend toward smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles amid rising gasoline prices and efforts by recession-shocked Americans to tighten their belts.

"There's a mindset that if you're looking for efficiency and fuel economy, an import is the way to go," Anwyl said.

Further, he said, the nationwide downsizing has reduced sales of full-size pickup trucks and truck-based SUVs - both segments where the Detroit carmakers dominated.

It's not clear how many Long Islanders might have avoided Toyota in January and February as its troubles mounted. Nationally, the carmaker's sales fell by 16 percent in January and 8.5 percent last month from a year earlier.

Paul Conte, owner of Chevrolet and Cadillac dealerships in Freeport that bear his family name, said Wednesday that his sales were up in January and February from a year earlier and continue to improve so far in March - in part because of Toyota's troubles - especially at the Chevy store. "Here at the Cadillac store, we're seeing people driving in with Lexuses a lot more," he said.

Polk couldn't immediately provide a breakdown by automaker for December. November's figures showed Toyota was the biggest gainer in share, with Chrysler losing the most, Ford down slightly and General Motors up about a point from a year earlier.

Like Southern California, the New York region has long been strong for foreign brands, Anwyl said. "A lot of it is demographics - income levels, educational levels. The imports tend to do better in the segments of the population that are more affluent."

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