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LI new-car registrations fall 4% in February

Thomas Hart, a salesman at Riverhead Ford-Lincoln shows

Thomas Hart, a salesman at Riverhead Ford-Lincoln shows Kimberly Hamil, of Center Moriches, a 2013 Ford Fusion. (April 16, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Island's new-vehicle market slumped in February, with registrations off by almost 4 percent from a year earlier as the blizzard buried dealer stocks and trapped many would-be buyers in their homes for days.

Nassau and Suffolk motorists registered 15,083 new cars and trucks in February, according to auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co., down 3.9 percent from February of last year.

The decline came despite a 6.7 percent gain in total sales tax receipts for all items in February over a year earlier, noted Long Island Association chief economist Pearl Kamer.

She cites as one factor the Feb. 8-9 blizzard that dumped more than 30 inches of snow on some parts of the Island. "It was not the kind of weather that encourages shopping for cars," she said.

Other possible reasons for the slump, she said, were deep discounts on cars late last year and a surge in buying in November and December to replace thousands of vehicles destroyed by superstorm Sandy. "Maybe what happened in November and December took away from spring sales and leasing," she said. "We've seen that many times."

Leading the decline was one of the Island's most popular brands -- Nissan, whose Long Island registrations in February fell by 27 percent, to 1,633 cars and trucks. Nissan had a bad January as well on Long Island, as registrations fell by 16.5 percent from a year earlier to 1,524 vehicles.

Company spokesman Steven Oldham said in an email that many Long Island drivers lease rather than buy, so "the comparison versus prior February is a bit skewed," because two leasing programs running in February of last year were not offered this February.

For all makes, Long Island registrations rose by 11.5 percent in January, to 16,105 vehicles.

That increase followed huge jumps in November and December of 71 percent and 40 percent respectively.

In February, Honda, the Island's bestselling brand, was off by almost 12 percent from a year earlier, to 2,029 vehicles. Toyota, another popular brand locally, fell 5 percent to 1,524, and Hyundai registrations fell by 18 percent to 961.

But among major makes there were some gainers -- most notably Ford, whose Long Island registrations rose by 16 percent, to 1,176 cars and trucks in February.

A Ford spokeswoman credited sales incentives -- especially lease deals on the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan. "The area continues to see strong Escape and Fusion lease programs," she said in an email. "Also, the Presidents Day pricing helped drive up sales." Presidents Day discounts included cut-rate loans and rebates on various models.

New registrations of Chevrolets also rose, by 10 percent to 892.

Mark Calisi, owner of Eagle Chevrolet in Riverhead, credited improved supplies -- and sales -- of the Cruze sedan and strong sales of leftover 2013 Silverado full-size pickup trucks, which are heavily discounted to clear the way for 2014 Silverados now being built. Many full-size pickup customers, he said, are builders. "We're seeing more of the trades people coming in -- more than last year," he said.

Also in February, Mercedes-Benz edged out BMW in February as the Island's most popular luxury brand, with a 20 percent increase over a year earlier, to 598 vehicles.

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