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LI car sales spike in August, drop in fall

A Nissan GT-R 2014 edition displayed in a

A Nissan GT-R 2014 edition displayed in a showroom of the Atlantic Auto Mall in West Islip. (July 29, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

Local new car dealers had a good August, new figures show, but several retailers say September and October sales suffered as prospective buyers worried about the partial federal government shutdown and possible economic fallout if the nation defaulted on its debts.

Long Islanders registered 10 percent more new cars in August than a year earlier, said the Michigan-based auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co., as gains of 20 percent each by Honda, Ford and Chevrolet overcame flat year-to-year performances by Toyota, Hyundai and Jeep.

Long Islanders registered 18,709 new cars, SUV's, vans and pickup trucks in that month.

"August was a very nice month for us," said Michael Brown, a co-owner of the 22-store Atlantic Auto Group, the Island's largest dealership chain.

Nationally, sales in August rose by 17 percent from a year earlier, according to the trade paper Automotive News. Registration figures are roughly comparable to those of sales.

For the year to date through August, Long Island new vehicle registrations were also up by 10 percent from a year earlier.

But Brown says there was a slowdown in late September as the Oct. 1 government shutdown approached. Sales also slowed earlier this month on consumer fears during the shutdown.

Dealer Gary Schimmerling, owner of Babylon Honda in West Babylon, reported a similar pattern. "People were scared," said Schimmerling.

Dealer Mark Calisi said it was the same at his Eagle Auto Mall in Riverhead, which retails Chevrolets, Kias, Mazdas and Volvos. But word early Wednesday of the movement toward a settlement on Capitol Hill changed things. "You could hear the phones ringing again and the Internet traffic was up," he said. "I don't think that's a coincidence."

Industry analysts and local dealers have attributed the sales gains earlier this year to factors including improved consumer confidence from lower unemployment and some job growth and recovery in home prices; low interest rates for car loans and leases; and an aged fleet from postponed purchases during the recession.

The average car on American roads is more than 11 years old -- highest in recent memory. Some purchases might also have been to replace cars destroyed by superstorm Sandy, which struck on Oct. 29.

Registrations locally have exceeded last year's each month except February, when a blizzard buried dealer stocks and stranded many would-be buyers in their homes. Registrations fell 3.9 percent that month from a year earlier.

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