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Compact SUVs grow in popularity on Long Island

Dawn Oates with her Subaru Forester at her

Dawn Oates with her Subaru Forester at her home in Bohemia, April 19, 2017. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Compact SUVs are taking over Long Island.

Smaller sport utility vehicles account for five of the eight most popular 2017 model cars registered to a local address, according to new statistics from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

These vehicles, such as the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester, use a car-based platform, unlike some of the larger models that were popular a decade ago, such as the Dodge Durango and the Toyota 4Runner. Most of those were built on truck frames.

The smaller models are helping drive SUV sales to record levels nationwide. Long Island dealerships said sales here mirror that trend.

“Over the last three years, our small SUVs sales are up at least 40 percent,” said Michael Brown, co-owner of the 22-store Atlantic Auto Group, Long Island’s largest new-car dealership chain.

“Those sales are taking from the other segments. We see sedan sales moving over to the small SUV, and we’ve seen big truck sales move to the small SUV as well,” he said.

In total, 37 percent of all cars registered on Long Island are SUVs, compared with about 25 percent in 2011, according to the state DMV and the Detroit automotive division of consulting company IHS Markit. The preference is growing: 54 percent of 2017 model cars registered here are SUVs.

There are about 1.9 million cars registered to addresses on Long Island. The three most popular cars overall are the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Honda Civic.

Among 2017 models, the three most popular makes are the Hyundai Elantra, Honda Accord and Jeep Grand Cherokee, registration data show.

Long Island’s taste in cars differs from the nation’s. The Ford F Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram Pickup, all trucks, were the hottest-selling vehicles in the United States in the first quarter of 2017, according to Edmunds.com.

Nationally, about 40 percent of new vehicle sales or leases in the January to March period were SUVs, said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Santa Monica, California-based Edmunds.com.

“It has never been this high,” she said. “Once manufacturers put these [compact] SUVs on a car platform, the popularity rose. These cars are better than they were before, and as they’ve gained in popularity, even the luxury brands are doing more.”

Improved gas mileage, aggressive pricing, more cargo space, better ability to handle bad weather than many sedans and an elevated ride height are all cited as reasons for the segment’s popularity.

“From speaking to customers, they like being high up,” said Clifford Korade, vice president at Sayville Ford, Long Island’s largest retailer of the brand. “They feel more comfortable being able to see more.”

Improved gas mileage means a slight rise in gas prices wouldn’t lead to a big drop in SUV sales, said Mike Quincy, an automotive specialist at the Consumer Reports 327-acre test track in Colchester, Connecticut.

Quincy said small SUVs are no longer well behind sedans when it comes to gas mileage.

“Look at the fuel efficiency of the RAV4 hybrid. It’s 31 miles per gallon. That’s incredible,” Quincy said. “They’re smaller but still have good cargo space, and all the manufacturers are marketing these vehicles with multiple price points. Depending on how much you can spend, there’s likely an SUV for every budget.”

He also said the trend has lifted the nationwide sales of Subaru, which makes the Forester and Outback compact SUVs.

“They were making the Outback wagon 20 years ago, where you could take your outdoor adventure vehicle and bring your bike and kayak along for the ride,” he said.

On Long Island, the Subaru Forester and Outback are fourth and 12th respectively in the number of 2017 model registered cars. The top-ranked 2016 Subaru model is the Outback, at 18th.

Steve Fulco, general manager of sales operations at Donaldsons VW Subaru in Sayville, one of the largest Subaru dealers on the Island, said one reason his dealership’s Subaru sales are up is the brand has expanded beyond selling to outdoor enthusiasts. He added that its high safety ratings are a selling point.

The Forester’s safety features are why Dawn Oates of Bohemia purchased the vehicle, she said. She had been driving a Volkswagen Beetle and a BMW X3, but the Forester handles the dirt roads near her cabin in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

Apple Honda, a dealer in Riverhead, is also selling more smaller SUVs, said sales manager Eric Goetz.

“The CR-V, Accord and Civic are our top three, and the CR-V has pulled away in the last year,” Goetz said.

The CR-V is the sixth-most popular car on Long Island. The Civic is third.

While the market has shifted to SUVs, the way new cars are acquired here is not changing as dramatically.

Long Islanders lease cars far more frequently than the national average. Nationally, only about 3 in 10 new cars are leased, while the proportion jumps to 62.7 percent here, according to IHS Markit.

The propensity to lease on the Island is partly because drivers here favor luxury cars, and monthly lease payments tend to be lower, said Tom Libby, manager, loyalty and industry analysis for IHS Markit.

“On the coasts, frankly, it’s a social status to be seen in a nice car,” Libby said. “If you want to be seen in a nice, new car, leasing does make sense.”

Libby said luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus depend on sales on the coasts to reach U.S. sales goals.

“If their sales slip in the tristate area and Los Angeles, they will fall nationally,” he said.

There are about 200,000 cars from those three automakers registered here, according to DMV statistics.

Of 2017 models, there are two Mercedes-Benz automobiles and one BMW car in the top 20.

Drivers of more affordable cars are also more apt to lease in the Northeast.

Brown at Atlantic Auto Group said more than six in 10 customers lease a new car.

About 65 percent of new car transactions at Sayville Ford are leases, Korade said. The lease rate is at about 60 percent at Apple Honda. About 40 percent of new Subaru deals at Donaldsons are leases, while about 70 percent of Volkswagen drivers lease their car.

Some consumers view leasing as a way to move into a new car every three years, thus avoiding expensive maintenance charges once a warranty expires, according to IHS Markit’s Libby. However, perpetual leasing also means never-ending monthly payments.

“Some leases also have a mild mileage ceiling, so if you drive over the mile limit, there is a penalty,” Libby said. “That is a consideration.”

TOP 10 2017 VEHICLES ON LI

Hyundai Elantra 2,923

Honda Accord 2,896

Jeep Grand Cherokee 2,486

Subaru Forester 1,957

Chevrolet Equinox 1,817

Ford Escape 1,765

Hyundai Santa Fe 1,568

Toyota RAV4 1,424

Mercedes-Benz E Class 1,408

Toyota Camry 1,376

TOP 10 VEHICLES OVERALL ON LI

Honda Accord 76,490

Toyota Camry 60,816

Honda Civic 59,789

Jeep Grand Cherokee 54,941

Nissan Altima 53,145

Honda CR-V 51,212

Toyota Corolla 40,980

Hyundai Sonata 34,404

Toyota RAV4 33,176

Nissan Rogue 31,155

TESLA TALLY

There are 1,260 Tesla cars registered on Long Island

PRIUS TALLY

There are 17,782 Prius cars on Long Island

Top 5 U.S. VEHICLES ON LI

Total 2017

Jeep Grand Cherokee Jeep Grand Cherokee

Ford Explorer Chevrolet Equinox

Jeep Wrangler Ford Escape

Ford Escape Ford Explorer

Jeep Cherokee GMC Acadia

TOP 5 JAPAN-MADE VEHICLES ON LI

Total 2017

Honda Accord Honda Accord

Toyota Camry Subaru Forester

Honda Civic Toyota RAV4

Nissan Altima Toyota Camry

Honda CR-V Subaru Outback

TOP 5 GERMAN-MADE VEHICLES ON LI

Total 2017

Volkswagen Jetta Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz E-Class BMW X3

Mercedes-Benz C-Class Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Volkswagen Passat Mercedes-Benz GLE

BMW X5 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

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