Customers look over some of the new Jeep lineup including...

Customers look over some of the new Jeep lineup including the Jeep Liberty, left, Jeep Wrangler, center, and Jeep Grand Cherokee, right, at Smith Haven Dodge Chrysler Jeep in St. James. Credit: John Dunn

The sport utility vehicle is king on Long Island, and hybrids are barely registering with car buyers despite years of rising gas prices.

A profile of the Island's vehicle population as of April 1, compiled for Newsday by the Michigan auto statistics company R.L. Polk, found 622,711 SUVs registered in Nassau and Suffolk -- or 24.2 percent of the total of 2,569,978 cars, trucks and small motor homes.

SUVs, which are prized for their cargo space, are more popular here than nationally. In the U.S., they accounted for almost 20 percent of all registrations, according to Polk, which analyzes statistics purchased from Departments of Motor Vehicles nationwide. The data include government vehicles and those registered to small businesses.

The survey found almost 21,000 hybrids on the Island, just eight-tenths of 1 percent of the total -- virtually the same as nationally. Half of the hybrids were Toyota Priuses, making it the most popular.

"The vehicle choices by the people of Long Island kind of match their lifestyle," said automotive analyst Kristen Andersson of the website "SUVs are proportionately higher due mostly to the climate -- it's cold and snowy in the winter."

The Island's suburban makeup is another factor, she said. "That affects the size of the vehicle people choose. In suburbia there's more room and it caters to families."

The statistics also show:

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is the most popular SUV on Long Island, with 45,749 registered.

Upper midsize cars are the number two category -- accounting for 517,919, or 20 percent, of the total.

The Honda Accord is the favorite upper midsize car, with 99,042 on the road.

The most popular luxury midsize car was the Lincoln Town Car, with 16,429. Polk doesn't break out the growing category of luxury SUVs.

Long Islanders drove more Toyotas than any other brand -- 300,691 -- followed by Ford and Honda.

Minivans, a onetime symbol of suburbia, represented only about 5.3 percent, or 137,533 vehicles on the Island, about the same percentage as nationally.

There are 345,333 basic economy cars, such as the Hyundai Elantra, on Long Island roads, 13.4 percent of the total.

Long Islanders were driving 59,285 convertibles, 2.3 percent of total registered vehicles -- compared with 1.87 percent nationally.

Discontinued nameplates still being driven include Ford Pintos, Mercury Comets, Plymouth Barracudas, and Pontiac Catalinas.

A key reason for the dominance of SUVs, which tend to be more expensive than other cars, is the relatively high incomes on Long Island, said auto industry analyst Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive.

"They provide a level of status," she said. "And people who have them say, 'I can see ahead in traffic.' "

Most SUVs -- including the Grand Cherokee and the runner-up Ford Explorer -- are getting better gas mileage than they once did, she said. In addition, many drivers have opted for smaller SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, which gets a combined city/highway 25 mpg by EPA estimate.

"We've seen SUVs become less trucklike and more aerodynamic and that's helping them get better fuel economy," Lindland said.

Elementary schoolteacher and baseball coach Lou Petrucci of Poquott said he bought his V-8-powered Grand Cherokee for its comfort and all-wheel drive and to haul sports equipment. He said he drives 2,000 to 3,000 miles a month.

"When I coach baseball I need all my stuff in the backseat and I need that SUV space," he said.

Petrucci's car gets 14 or 15 miles per gallon in local driving, 18 on the highway. "I do a lot of driving so I want to be comfortable. If I have to pay a dollar more for gas because of the people at OPEC, I don't care."

Lindland said hybrids have been a hard sell because most, including the Prius, don't offer as much passenger and cargo room as the average SUV and, typically, cost at least $2,500 more than a comparable conventional model.

"Many customers don't see the value in paying that much up front," she said.

A buyer who opted for a Toyota Camry hybrid instead of a conventional Camry would pay an extra $3,400. If regular gasoline remained at the current average of about $3.72 a gallon, the buyer would have to drive more than 79,000 miles before the car began paying for itself in fuel savings.

The survey also breaks down car choices by ZIP code.

Cedarhurst had the highest percentage of minivans at 13.3 percent, or 5,629 vehicles.

The upscale South Fork village of Sagaponack had the highest percentage of convertibles, 87 out of the 875 vehicles, or about 10 percent.

The ZIP code with the largest percentage of pickups is 06390 -- Fishers Island, where 21.1 percent, or 129 vehicles, fall into that category.

The ZIP code with the most Ferraris was 11545, garaging 58 of the Italian sportscars. That code includes the affluent communities of Glen Head, Brookville and Old Brookville. The same ZIP code also had the largest number of Rolls-Royces -- 22.

With Randi F. Marshall

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