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LI logs 9% gain in auto registrations in March

Salesman Thomas Hart shows a Ford Escape to

Salesman Thomas Hart shows a Ford Escape to a customer at Riverhead Ford-Lincoln last month. Ford registrations on Long Island were up 17.2 percent in March compared to a year earlier. (April 16, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Islanders registered 9 percent more new cars and trucks in March than a year earlier, a strong performance albeit over weak numbers last March.

The increase was led by Ford, which surged ahead of Hyundai in popularity during March as Long Islanders registered 17.2 percent more Fords than in March of last year, or 1,210 vehicles, according to auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co. Overall, Ford was the fourth-most popular brand here.

A Ford spokeswoman credited stronger sales of Explorer SUVs and Fusion midsize sedans; their deliveries in New York City region rose by 68 percent and 42 percent, respectively in March from a year earlier.

While Ford didn't have a breakdown of sales for Long Island, the spokeswoman said in an email, "It's safe say that Explorer, Fusion and the Escape [SUV] had significant gains due to the fact that Long Island is a heavy lease area, and they are strong lease-wise for the entire region."

All told, Long Islanders registered 17,594 new vehicles in March, Polk said.

The increase came despite a tepid gain by Honda, the Island's most popular brand; registrations of Hondas rose by 1.5 percent to 2,484 cars and trucks. The year-to-year gain by Toyota, the Island's third most popular brand, was 5.9 percent, to 1,807 vehicles.

New registrations of Hyundais fell 3 percent, and also dropped 3.3 percent for Nissans. At 2,135 vehicles, Nissan was still the Island's second most popular brand in March.

Although Chevrolet's total March number was smaller than Ford's, its percentage gain was even larger: 18.2 percent, to 896 vehicles.

"It's the Cruze and Equinox that are doing it," said co-owner Scott Brown of Robert Chevrolet in Hicksville, referring to the brand's compact sedan and crossover SUV. The Equinox, in particular, was buoyed by strong corporate sales incentives and greater supplies.

General Motors' Buick and Cadillac brands also scored strong gains -- 71 percent and 48.5 percent, respectively -- although their total registrations were even smaller than Chevrolet's, at 106 for Buick and 288 for Cadillac.

Nationally, sales, which closely track registrations, rose by 3 percent in March from a year earlier, according to figures compiled by the trade paper Automotive News.

The strength in Long Island's March numbers might be attributable, at least in part, to a weak period a year earlier, when registrations plunged 8.5 percent from the level of March 2011.

Among popular European brands, new registrations of BMWs were up by just 1 percent in March from a year earlier, at 717 vehicles, while those of Volkswagens rose by 14.9 percent to 703 cars and trucks and those of Mercedes-Benzes rose by 6.2 percent to 686 vehicles.

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