Long Island's new vehicle deliveries inched ahead in April from a year earlier, according to newly available registration figures from a local dealer association.
The 1.8 percent increase in April, to 18,546 new passenger cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks, was less than half the 5 percent increase for the entire 12-county metropolitan area, whose registrations are included in a monthly market report prepared for the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.
Low gasoline prices compared with a year earlier apparently drove sales of larger vehicles. For the region, registrations grew 13.2 percent for SUVs and other light trucks. Passenger car registrations in the metro area dropped 3.4 percent.
"People love their trucks and as long as gas prices stay low, they'll buy them," said the dealer group's president, Mark Schienberg.
Gasoline prices began falling in early July of last year -- from a Nassau-Suffolk average for regular of $4.036 a gallon on July 2, to a recent low of $2.348 on Feb. 2, according to daily surveys done for the motorist group AAA. Prices have been rising since then, to $3.023 a gallon on average on Thursday on Long Island, but they remain $1 a gallon on average below a year ago.
New vehicle registrations approximate new vehicle sales.
Nationally, sales rose by 4.6 percent in April from a year earlier, to about 4.5 million, according to the trade paper Automotive News.
For January through April, the latest month for which local figures are available, registrations of new vehicles rose by 2 percent in Nassau over the first four months of last year but were flat in Suffolk, compared with a 3 percent increase for the 12-county region that includes Long Island, New York City's five boroughs and the northern suburbs.
That difference in performance between Nassau and Suffolk is reflected also in overall sales tax receipts in the first quarter of this year, which include those from sales of cars. The receipts rose by 2.74 percent from a year earlier in Nassau but by only about a half percent in Suffolk, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance.
Martin Melkonian, adjunct associate professor of economics at Hofstra University, said that Nassau residents can more easily commute to Manhattan, where job growth has been stronger than on Long Island. "Having easier access to Manhattan is certainly a plus for Nassau," he said.
Co-owner Michael Brown of the 22-store Atlantic Auto Group, the Island's largest chain, said he was surprised at Long Island's relatively weak performance.
"We're doing OK on Long Island," he said. "I don't think things are bad, I just don't see the gains like the rest of the region saw."
Schienberg said double-digit increases in registrations in the first four months of the year for the Bronx and Brooklyn may be from families migrating from Manhattan to newly revitalized neighborhoods in those boroughs, and finding that they need cars. But, he said, "I think there are [economic] pressures on Long Island."
The report to the dealer association doesn't offer breakdowns by model or body type for individual counties but, for the 12-county region, the Honda CR-V, a small SUV, was the best-selling model for the first four months of this year, followed by the Nissan Rogue SUV, Honda Accord and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Last year, Long Islanders registered 3.8 percent more new vehicles than in 2013, or 218,395. Nationally, sales for all of last year beat 2013's by 6 percent.