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New car registrations on Long Island fall from last year

New vehicle registrations on Long Island in March fell 31 percent from a year earlier, as the year got off to a slow start for auto sales.

Registrations in Nassau and Suffolk for new domestic vehicles fell the most: 41 percent, and European imports fared better than Asian imports with a 16 percent decrease, according to an analysis by R.L. Polk, a Michigan-based auto information company. Local data from March is the most recent available.

Islandwide, January figures were also down 31 percent from the same month in 2008; and February's were only slightly better with a 27 percent decrease over a year ago.

Uncertainty hovered over the floundering auto industry in the weeks leading up to the bankruptcy protection filings of Chrysler Llc on April 30 and General Motors Corp. June 1. Chrysler has canceled the franchises of four of the 20 dealers on Long Island. It is unclear whether GM would phase out any of the 29 Long Island dealers - with more than 40 GM franchises because of multiple brands in some stores. The automaker has not released the names of the dealerships with canceled franchise contracts, but a congressional report last week said GM plans affect 60 dealers in New York State.

Kaushik Sengupta, an associate professor of management, entrepreneurship and general business at Hofstra University, said consumers were holding off on buying cars, "one of the largest purchases people make," amid the economic downturn.

The local numbers appear "in line" with nationwide trends, he said. "Obviously, it's a little bit worse for the domestic" automakers. "People are not buying the large cars anymore - gas prices are starting to creep up again."

Adding that it would take some time before Chrysler dealers begin selling Fiat vehicles, he said, "I don't think this trend is going to change in the near term."

Other economic indicators for March show that Long Island's tourism industry continued to struggle, with hotel occupancy down 12.1 percent from March 2008. That was the 11th month in a row that occupancy rates were lower than the same period a year ago. Traffic at Islip, Kennedy and LaGuardia airports was down 5.7 percent from the same month a year earlier.

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