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Quake fallout in Long Island car market

Although Honda saw its new car registrations fall

Although Honda saw its new car registrations fall on Long Island in April, the company took less of a hit than other Japanese automakers. Above, the Nardy Honda Smithtown dealership last week. (June 15, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The March earthquake and tsunami in Japan made April a tough month for Long Island auto dealers handling Japanese models, according to newly available registration figures. But those dealers’ losses appear to have meant gains for dealers handling Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, GMC and Jeep vehicles.

The new figures from the Michigan-based auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co. show that interruptions in auto and parts assembly operations in Japan that even impacted the Japanese carmakers’ U.S. plants weakened the overall Long Island market, where Asian makes, especially Toyota and Honda, are strong. New registrations fell by 6.8 percent for the Island as a whole in April, to 14,400 vehicles, compared with the same month last year.

Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers, says the quake’s effects are providing an opportunity for Detroit to get import-oriented buyers to consider their vehicles.

“Nobody wanted it to happen this way,” he said, “but they are going to have some benefit in terms of consumers looking at some of their products. The domestics are building some really good cars.”

Among major models, Toyota suffered the biggest decline on Long Island in April, 24.3 percent, with new registrations totaling 1,377 vehicles. Nissan’s decline was almost as large — 23.8 percent — but Honda’s was a relatively mild 11.9 percent from a year earlier, so its dealers handily outsold Toyota and Nissan outlets.

But, said Schienberg, “the Japanese are not out of it. They have very loyal customers, and as soon as they get their factories up and running, they’ll get product out, and those dramatic numbers I’m sure will change to some degree.”

Most European and Detroit luxury makes also suffered in April — including BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz — the apparent result of a slowing economy and high gasoline prices. An exception was Lincoln, whose registrations rose by 40 percent, to 208 vehicles.

South Korea-based Hyundai countered the pro-Detroit trend, with registrations up locally by 11 percent in April from a year earlier, to 1,274 vehicles.

Among Detroit brands, registrations of Fords rose by 22.5 percent from a year earlier, those for Chevrolet were up 10.9 percent, Jeeps were up 26.7 percent and GMCs was up 24 percent.`

The new Polk figures showed Asian brands with a still-dominant combined 57 share of the Long Island market, but that was down by almost 4 percentage points from a year earlier. The combined share of Detroit-based automakers grew by 4.4 percentage points to 25.7 percent.

At Robert Chevrolet in Hicksville, dealer principal and general manager Scott Brown says sales of his new compact, the Cruze, are running triple those of the predecessor Cobalt at this time last year, while sales of the Equinox SUV have doubled from a year ago. “They are, by far, the best sellers,” he said.

Mouse over this chart to get the month-to-month numbers. 

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