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Mild winter cuts into March new car sales

Mild weather in January and February on Long

Mild weather in January and February on Long Island brought out more vehicle buyers and reduced the number of car purchases in March, according to a study. Numbers are not yet in for April. In West Babylon Gary Schimmerling shows a Honda Fit. (April 12, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

Auto sales declined on Long Island in March, the victim apparently of mild weather in January and February, resulting in stronger sales those months.

Residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties registered 8.5 percent fewer new cars and trucks in March than in the same month a year earlier, according to new figures from Michigan-based auto data provider R.L. Polk & Co. The Island zigged as the nation zagged; nationally, sales increased by 13 percent in the same period.

If the mild weather in January and February drew sales that would otherwise have occurred in March, that pattern may hold for other Long Island businesses, said economist Pearl Kamer of the Long Island Association: "We could see a drop-off in consumer spending, especially if real incomes don't increase."

The data show particularly sharp declines in March from a year earlier in registrations of new Hondas and Hyundais, two of the Island's most popular brands. They fell by 15.3 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

At Nardy Honda in St. James, principal Lee Certilman says the drop is simply a return to more normal sales patterns after what began as a banner year until the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. "We were having a great year last year" until supply disruptions from natural and nuclear disasters in Japan and flooding in Thailand, he said.

A Hyundai spokesman blamed the decline on short supplies of vehicles.

There was a smaller decline in March at Nissan, another strong local brand, while Toyota's March results were flat with a year earlier. Among domestic makes, Ford fell by 7.5 percent, Chevrolet rose by almost 3 percent and Dodge fell by almost 22 percent.

Polk said Long Islanders registered 16,166 new vehicles in March.

In February, the Long Island market was flat compared with a year earlier. But in January, Long Islanders bought 6.5 percent more new vehicles than in January 2011, when record snowfall made vehicle shopping difficult. "Our sales were dismal last year because of all the snow we had," said dealer principal Mark Calisi of the Eagle Auto Mall in Riverhead.

Some local industry executives have noted that, since the Island's car market didn't shrink as much in the recession as the national market, the post-recession sales gains are apt to look less impressive.

The national figures include sales to large fleets, such as those operated by car rental companies, while Polk's Long Island figures reflect deliveries to retail and small business customers only.

While fleet sales have increased more than retail sales this year, they still account for only a fifth of the total national market.

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