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Long Island car sales rose in February despite the cold

New cars and trucks for sale on the

New cars and trucks for sale on the lot in front of the Ford and Lincoln dealership in Smithtown on Feb. 17, 2015. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Long Islanders braved bitter cold in February to buy almost 3 percent more new cars and trucks than a year earlier, when the weather was relatively warmer, new data show.

A possible explanation: less snow. While temperatures in February averaged 21.6 degrees or 11.2 degrees below normal at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, February's snowfall total was lower -- 13.6 inches, compared with 29 inches a year earlier, the National Weather Service said.

Nassau and Suffolk consumers registered 15,431 passenger cars and light trucks including pickups, vans and sport utility vehicles in February, according to the latest data produced by the Michigan firm R.L. Polk & Co. for the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.

For the 12-county New York metro region studied by the dealer group, February's increase was twice as large, at 6.4 percent. The strongest increases were in the city's outer boroughs of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. Besides Long Island, the region includes Manhattan, Staten Island and the northern suburbs -- Dutchess, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties.

For the region, light trucks scored the biggest gain in February -- almost 9 percent from a year earlier, while registrations of cars rose 3.3 percent.

No breakdown by body type was available by county, but on Long Island the total gain in registrations was 4 percent in Nassau but only 1.3 percent in Suffolk.

Chief economist John Rizzo of the Long Island Association, a business group, said one factor in the discrepancy between the two counties might be that several storms in February produced higher snow totals in Suffolk than in points west. Nassau also had a lower unemployment rate, 4.8 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for Suffolk, in February.

Further, incomes generally are higher in Nassau, noted Martin Melkonian, an adjunct associate professor of economics at Hofstra University. "Nassau is more affluent than Suffolk," he said. "I think people are scraping by, especially in Suffolk, these days."

Nationally, new vehicle sales, which approximate new registrations, rose 5.3 percent in February, to about 1.3 million vehicles.

Last year, Long Islanders registered 3.8 percent more vehicles than in 2013. Nassau and Suffolk drivers registered 218,395 vehicles in 2014, up from 210,401 in 2013.

National sales for all of last year beat 2013's by 6 percent.

However Long Island's market didn't decline as much as that of the nation as a whole during the Great Recession. Locally, new registrations fell 18 percent from 191,000 vehicles in 2006 to a low of 157,000 in 2009 before beginning a steady recovery.

Nationally, sales fell 37 percent from 16.5 million in 2006 to 10.4 million in 2009.

Dealers and industry experts have attributed sales gains nationally and locally since the end of the recession to an improving economy, low interest rates, easier-to-obtain credit and, recently, to lower gasoline prices. Pump prices began falling in early July -- from an average for regular on Long Island of $4.036 a gallon on July 2 to a low of $2.348 on Feb. 2 -- spurring sales especially of many models of light trucks.

Seasonal factors and the rising price of crude oil since then have increased pump prices to an average of $2.930 for regular Thursday morning, according to the motorist group AAA.

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