The front grill of a Jeep Grand Cherokee shines at...

The front grill of a Jeep Grand Cherokee shines at Smith Haven Dodge Chrysler Jeep in St. James. (April 8, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

Long Islanders registered 21 percent more new cars and trucks in January for themselves and their small businesses than they did a year earlier as the local market continued to recover from the recession, according to new data provided to Newsday by R. Polk and Co.

Long Islanders registered 13,525 new vehicles during that month, according to data from the Polk automotive research firm -- despite several major snowstorms.

The percentage gain locally was stronger than in the nation as a whole, based on sales data from the trade paper Automotive News: It said U.S. sales of cars and light trucks rose 17 percent, though its figure includes sales to large fleets such as those of rental companies.

More recent Long Island numbers aren't available yet, but nationally sales in February were even further ahead of a year earlier -- by 27 percent. However, the national growth slipped back to 17 percent in March.

Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of the automotive information website Edmunds.com, says sales stalled in March in part because General Motors ended some of its sales incentives -- include one allowing lease holders to trade in their vehicles early for new ones. Another factor, he said, was rising gasoline prices, which increased the demand for compact and subcompact cars beyond the available supply. "Sales were constrained," he said.

In raw numbers, the biggest Long Island gain in January was scored by dealers handling Jeeps. They sold 382 more of the SUVs in January than they did in January 2010, an 89 percent gain.

Dealers credit the redesigned Grand Cherokee, which went on sale last year. "We can't get enough of them," said Brett Saslow, owner of Smith Haven Dodge Chrysler Jeep in St. James, who says demand has remained strong in February, March and so far in April despite rising gasoline prices.

Also showing big increases in volume in the Polk registration figures for Nassau and Suffolk were Chevrolet, with 352 added vehicles, Hyundai with 347, Ford with 292, Cadillac with 195, and Dodge with 169 more than last January.

Mark Calisi, owner of Eagle Chevrolet in Riverhead, credited the new small car, the Cruze, for some of the gain. It replaced the Cobalt. Sales also jumped for pickup trucks and vans for tradespeople and other small business owners, he said.

"A lot of it was pent-up demand," he said of the trucks. "The trade-ins were beat up pretty good. You can tell that people were holding on to them more than they usually would." He says business stayed fairly strong in February and March despite soaring gasoline prices as some buyers who had postponed purchases during the recession were forced to replace aging vehicles.

At Atlantic Hyundai in West Islip, general sales manager Percy Urrutia said the models most responsible for that brand's increase of nearly 52 percent were the just-redesigned Elantra compact and the relatively new Sonata midsize sedan. "All of the Hyundai models have shown big increases," Urrutia said, "but we sell two or three . . . Sonatas and Elantras to any other of the models."

Brands that lost ground on Long Island included Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Nissan and Volkswagen.

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